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The U.S. and its Love Affair with Weapons December 19, 2012

Posted by tackettmedia in politics.
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A couple of days ago, I read in a Swiss paper (online, of course) an article commenting on the massacre in Newtown and examining the prevalence of weapons among civilians in the United States.

I am trying here to summarize the article in English.

Per 20 Minuten about 650 million guns are owned by civilians across the world. Of those, approximately 270 million are owned by civilians in the United States. The paper lists as its source the Small Arms Survey.

Here are some other statistics I copied from the Small Arms Survey:

• Civilians own approximately 650 million firearms worldwide, roughly 75 per cent of the known total. Civilians in the United States own some 270 million of these.

• There are at least 875 million combined civilian, law enforcement, and military firearms in the world today.

• This is equal to roughly one gun for every seven people worldwide (without the United States, the figure drops to about one gun for every ten people).

• These figures do not include older, pre-automatic small arms still maintained by armed forces or craft-produced civilian guns.

• Nearly 79 million civilian firearms are known to be registered with authorities, roughly 9 per cent of the suspected civilian total.

• The rising availability of handguns has transformed urban weapons ownership, while semi- or fully automatic rifles have transformed possession in urban and rural settings.

• Organized destruction projects have eliminated at least 8.5 million small arms since 1991, three-quarters of which came from armed services. An unknown number are also lost through accidental wastage.

20 Minuten then continues to say that, according to a list put together by the UK paper Guardian, India has the next largest contingent of guns in ownership of civilians. Indian civilians own 46 million guns.

Therefore, with 88.8 guns per every 100 persons, the United States is the most armed population of any country.

(Of course, all these numbers are based on estimates).

However, if you compare countries by the lethal use of weapons at a per capita rate, the United States does not lead the list. Here is what 20 Minutes reports:

  • Honduras has the most murders with 68.43 killings per 100,000 people;
  • El Salvador is next with 39.9 murders per 100,000 people;
  • Jamaica follows closely (39.4); and
  • Venezuela is listed fourth (38.97).

The United States is ranked 28th with 2.97 lethal shootings per 100,000 people.

Therefore, the authors of the article in 20 Minuten comment, the high prevalence of weapons in the United States is surely a contributing factor when examining the amount of massacres in the past few years, but it is not the only explanation. They further explain that with 30.8 guns per 100 people, civilians in Canada are also well-armed. However, Canada only sees 0.51 lethal shootings per 100,000 people.

Next, the article talks about the efficiency of the weapons that are permitted to be purchased by the civilian population in the United States, namely semi-automatic guns. The reporters mention that this is the main discussion surrounding gun control.

If you have read my past blog entry, you know that I also believe some sort of ammunition control should be among any discussion of gun control. Is it doable? I don’t know. But with today’s technology, I sure hope that there would be some measures that allowed for a discussion about where and how ammunition can be purchased, what type of ammunition is permitted to manufacture at home and for which purpose, etc.

But back to the 20 Minuten article. It ends by changing the direction and examines the lack of general health insurance for all people, which contributes to the fact that many people with mental health issues do not get the treatment they need.

As announced in my previous blog entry, I’ve been asking questions around mental health issues for quite some time. I am not satisfied with any answers I have been given. Yet, I will not go into my views on mental health today. It deserves its own (or multiple) entry.

 

 

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Newtown Discussion: Gun Control and Mental Health December 16, 2012

Posted by tackettmedia in politics, sustainability.
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As I am watching the Sunday morning political shows in the wake of the Newtown elementary school shooting, the themes are clear: Gun control and – albeit to a lesser degree – mental health issues.

As I write this, I am watching Meet the Press. I just finished following the discussion on This Week. Consistently everyone is calling for conversation around gun control and privacy issues surrounding people struggling with their mental health.

I wonder whether “conversation” is enough. Mayor Bloomberg said it best when he put forth the message that he supported President Obama’s second term run because the President had the right vision around certain issues, but now it is time to lead and implement that vision.

One of the themes that bothers me is that no one is talking about ammunition control. Yes, we can put laws in place that require background checks, make it harder for people to purchase guns, ban certain guns, etc. But all these measures won’t affect the guns that are already out in our communities.

There is also no “conversation” around the issue of whether the U.S. Second Amendment supports the creation of a militia society. I am from a country where each man is required to go through military training. They store their weapon, a gun, at home. I grew up with a gun in our spare bedroom closet. Consequently, you could say that I was raised in a militia society. Yet, there were and are still controls in place through ammunition control.

Especially with the technology we have available nowadays, it ought to be possible to put in place some sort of ammunition controls. It will not be perfect since enforcement of any laws always depends on people in certain positions to do their jobs. However, without looking at ammunition control, I believe no new laws will have any big effect.

In essence, we can talk all day about removal of guns, which is not realistic and will not make any difference. But we could talk about ammunition control.

And now to my view of mental health issues. I will likely have to write more about this issue in a separate blog entry since I am thinking about it often (and therefore, have a lot to say on the topic) in connection with my work around homelessness. However, I briefly would like to mention that there needs to be more awareness, more education, better definitions, and diverse approaches to assist individuals and families dealing with mental health issues.

During today’s debates I heard a few times that it was necessary to close mental institutions in the 1960s and 70s. It was also said that the systems that were to replace the institutions (community-based mental health care and halfway houses) never was put in place to its full extent. Well, then the question is why?

Why did mental institutions not work? Why did alternatives not work? Why is there not a larger range of services in place?

We need to examine cost issues, treatment options, family support systems, etc. But above all, we need to look at definitions of what mental health issues are. The terminology and wide range of definitions that we currently have confuses the heck out of me. All this screams to me that there is a need for widespread education and awareness surrounding mental illness.

To finish this blog, I believe it will be easier for politicians to tackle the gun law issues. Yet, in the end, we can expect another watered-down law and a lot of back-slapping politicians congratulating themselves for their actions.

Mental health, I fear, will have to take another backseat.

Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson September 3, 2012

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A few people who follow me on Twitter may have already seen that I am completely engrossed in a biography by Richard Branson called “Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way.”

This is not a new book. It was first published in 1998 and the last copyright was updated in 2007. Nonetheless, I can only recommend it. It is an easy read with plenty of action.

But let’s get to the points I wanted to share. While I am not quite through with the book yet, I learned quite a bit and was also surprised that no matter who we are, we still struggle with the essential questions of what are we doing here on earth.

When Richard Branson was 40, he asked himself questions about what comes next, what is the purpose of my life, what is it that I am doing…

That’s why I like biographies of people whom we look up to. He truly lives life to the fullest. He wasn’t born into wealth, but worked himself to where he is in life. Yet, the book is not as much about making a fortune as it is about setting challenges and meeting them.

It reminds me of another biography of a man whom, besides my own Dad, I see as one of my role models, even though I will never meet him – Nelson Mandela. He had a cause and he risked everything for this cause. It was also a challenge that he set for himself.

Our heroes in life are men and women who set goals and go about achieving them. Yet, when they get there, then what?

I like the honesty that I find in the pages of this current biography. There are doubts, there are issues that bother me (why are there not many women he mentions in his business dealings, etc.), but they show that nobody is immune to being human.

No matter how big or little our struggle, the main goal for us is to set a challenge that allows us to grow. It ought not to be just a game to show our own power, but truly see what we can do to make a difference.

I’ve been raised with the belief that to be humble is to not believe in one’s own abilities and certainly not tout about them. To a degree, I know where that attitude comes from and I even agree. But it took me 40 years to acknowledge that there are certain gifts that I was given by the higher power I believe in. To not acknowledge these gifts is to not use them to my fullest abilities.

Interestingly enough I am an individualist and tend to be a loner – no one in my vicinity would consider me to be a social butterfly. What brought me to the United States is to be me. I wanted to escape the burden of living up to everybody else’s expectations. I believe my expectations of myself were already big enough. Once I felt I got my freedom, I changed my focus. I wanted to be the best that I could be at what I was doing at the moment, be it a waitress, a student, a journalist, or an advocate. The point for me is to leave the world around me in a little bit better shape than when I entered it. Yet, I am by no mean someone who would ever be able to compare myself with a Richard Branson or a Nelson Mandela.

However, what I get out of these books is that even I can make a difference. I have always believed that I can be engaged in a small way at the local level.

While I won’t fly a balloon across the Pacific, lead an underground political party, build a business emporium, set up a challenge to develop a private spaceship, or lead an entire nation peacefully one step further to democracy – I can make a difference in my community.

Reading about the challenges people face who are in the public eye gives me the courage to battle on and fight for the goals I believe in.

 

 

Art for Change, a street art competition August 29, 2012

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Art for Change, a street art competition in Downtown Nashville to raise homeless awareness is postponed until Oct. 6 http://ow.ly/dkyuL

Rescued dogs and homelessness – it’s all in the budgeting August 25, 2012

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Everyone who knows me personally is aware of the amount of animals I harbor at my home.

Most of them are rescues – thrown away or ending up at a shelter for some reason or other. I generally cannot afford to take in strays because I do not want to bring an undiagnosed disease into the house.

Having a bunch of animals requires careful budgeting. Now, I am by no means a budgeting guru. I’m good with money and live within my means. I also have a good indication of what, in an ideal process, I would like to set aside for retirement, savings, necessities, etc.

However, as so many other people, I tell myself that I do not want to be shackled down by a budget. Unfortunately, in real life, that attitude will not get us far anymore.

Unless you are wealthy, you have to follow some form of a budget. In other words, even though I may cheat myself into thinking that I do not restrain my lifestyle by constant planning and worrying about money, in reality I do make sure I don’t spend more than I bring in and set some aside for later.

That’s why I budget for the dogs, cats, birds and other critters that are occupying pretty much every room in my home.

It is irresponsible, in my view, not to plan ahead and then blame the debtors for trying to collect what you promised them to begin with.

Having said that, I work in the field of homelessness. When people ask me what the cause of homelessness is, I give them the standard answer of – “There are many causes. But the number one underlying cause of homelessness is poverty – unless someone who has means is dealing with a mental health issues that does not allow him or her to access said means.”

In other words, I can be a drunk or drug addict when I have money and not be homeless. It eventually could lead there, but as long as I have money and choose to have a house, I won’t be homeless. In addition, how many of you know of people you suspect are alcoholics, but they have a job and function quite well during the day? And if you cannot think of anyone, then think of Elton John. He’s been addicted on pretty much anything and as far as I know, he’s had enough money throughout many of the years of his addictions that allowed him to stay housed and live in comfort.

I think about poverty and homelessness about 14-16 hours of my day (I sleep 6-8 hours a day and then I won’t think about it when I read a book or watch a movie). It is not right that in a developed country like the United States, there are people who are homeless.

I believe we can end chronic homelessness in this country (but that opinion will be examined in other blogs).

I believe that this country is wasting resources to manage homelessness and help people survive. This is a harsh statement, especially since I also believe that it is necessary to help people survive by feeding, clothing and sheltering them.  Yet, a significant portion of the resources that we spend on homelessness needs to be diverted toward ending homelessness.

There are many models across the country that have shown success in ending chronic homelessness. We need to examine how we can expand these programs. Once we end homelessness, resources will be freed to go toward prevention.

While government funding is needed to help create momentum and keep momentum going, we will only achieve true results through outcome-focused public-private partnerships.

What does all that have to do with my rescued dogs?

It is easier for me to find a quick fix in rescuing a dog or other animal. It provides me with short-term satisfaction.

In the long-term, however, I am focused on doing my part in helping implement solutions to homelessness.

Both of these activities, I found, are based on cost analysis and careful budgeting, connected activities that focus on sustainability.

I cannot take home a dog and then not be able to care for him. The result would undoubtedly be that I would have to give him up again or euthanize him.

The same goes with ending homelessness. We cannot expect to create a lot of good programs without long-term planning on how we would like to sustain these programs and what our desired outcomes out to be.

Specifically, that means that we work together in partnerships where each partner has a stake and interest to hold the other partners accountable. In addition, while it is easy to plan without peer input, we won’t be successful unless we hear from individuals who are or have been homeless. We need to learn from people who have experienced homelessness about what is doable and what is realistic. These answers need to be sought out during our planning process. Are our expectations to high? What do we have to plan for to gain the expected outcomes?

I’ve been learning about homelessness issues for more than 10 years now and can tell you with my full conviction – in the end it is all about budgeting.

Outcomes and sustainability is what matters.

And to end this blog, I only want to mention one more thing. Too many people in the field of homelessness have confused outcomes with output.

I can easily provide 3,000 meals a year to feed the homeless – and it is a great contribution to helping people survive. I budget for that and I deliver. The resulting numbers will impress everyone who hears about them. This is an example of output.

However, what is the outcome? The outcome is that a certain amount of people have received 3,000 meals this year. Their bellies are full, but they are still homeless.

 

 

 

Preventable Crises: Iran, Climate Change and Homelessness January 10, 2012

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As we are bombarded in the media by news about the bad relationship between Iran and the US, I can’t but wonder what will come our way and how we, as regular middle class residents can protect ourselves if this tension is not diffused.

When I grew up, I remember that in my Swiss education in the mid-1980s, we learned about the war between Iraq and Iran. We were taught to think of Iraq as the good guys then, with Saddam, even though a dictator, holding the balance of that region in his hands. 

It turns out that the money spent on my education may not have been wasted on me. But then, we also learned in elementary school that by the year 2000, there will be climate problems facing Mother Earth if we in our generation don’t  come together on a global level and rethink our behavior.

In other words, we knew all of what we’re facing was coming our way. We knew it 20, 30 years ago. Yet, we did not prepare, did not change our behavior because at the time it was inconvenient. 

Now I’m working in the field of homelessness and still observe the same pattern. It seems easier for some people to work in their silos and protect their own organizations rather than collaborate and end homelessness in one of the richest countries on earth.

We know we will face the consequences of homelessness – lack of education, health crises, etc. – in the next generation. I’ll keep on fighting. But will it be enough?

Female Veterans September 2, 2011

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I think I already talked about my work as communications coordinator of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission and The Key Alliance. While I am responsible for content updates on our social media, Website and blog as well as media relations, I also write issue briefs, situation analysis and policy briefs on issues surrounding homelessness.

Most recently, I was working on a situation analysis about female veterans.

It seems to be the “it” theme with the military right now because the female veteran population is increasing.

The percentage of females serving in the military has been increasing from 3.3% of enlisted troops in FY1974 to 10.9% in FY1990 to14.8% in FY2004. By 2007, 165,000 female troops had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (that number currently stands at 182,000), which compares to 41,000 in the Gulf War and 7,500 in the Vietnam War.

In testimony before the House Committee on Veteran Affairs in 2009, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs noted that the United States has about 1.8 million women veterans. He further stated that women currently comprise about 14% of the active duty military and 17.6% of Guard and Reserves.

The military, over the past year, has made great strides in homelessness prevention for veterans and has vowed to eradicate veteran homelessness in five years. However, female veterans who are trying to adjust back to civilian life after a deployment deal with different issues than their male counterparts.

Female active duty soldiers have been found to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at higher rates than their male counterparts. Between 23 and 29% of female veterans seeking medical care through the VA reported that they have been sexually assaulted. Sexual assault has been linked to PTSD, depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, disruption of social networks, and employment difficulties—and places female veterans at an increased risk of homelessness.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that especially among young female veterans, the unemployment rate is significantly higher than for non-veterans of comparable age.

Because homeless female veterans still make up a relatively small percentage of the entire homeless veteran population (5%), homeless services are not geared to address the special needs of female veterans.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary, Eric K. Shinseki, said during the 2011 National Training Summit on Women Veterans in July, that support for women veterans has improved but “it has not been enough.” The VA announced the new Task Force on Women Veterans in July 2011, which will develop a comprehensive VA action plan focusing on key issues fac-ing women veterans and specific actions to solve them.

These issues will include obstetric and gynecological care, child care, military sexual trauma, homelessness, aging, and end-of-life issues, to name a few.

I believe the goals layed out are great. However, the military needs to take a step back and truly examine whom they are sending to their training courses which should help investigate female sexual assaults in the active duty military. I know that male soldiers are sent to receive these trainings.

As a woman, who has been sexually assaulted in the past, it is hard enough to talk about the issue. I sure would never have approached a man for help.

Think about it. No matter how capable a man is in dealing with these sensitive issues, in a military that is still dominated by and known for male chauvinism, a female soldier is likely NOT to seek help from a male soldier for rape or sexual assault. The military needs to train female active duty soldiers to address these issues. Male soldiers who become victims are more likely to open up to a female than a female victim is to open up to a male.

Happy Fourth of July! Get involved in yo July 4, 2011

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Happy Fourth of July! Get involved in your community – it’s the American way. Thank you to all volunteers!!!

Birthday Gift List July 3, 2011

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My Birthday is July 5.

It is a big one – and my husband has planned a surprise party for me. Considering that it didn’t quite work out as planned, I have taken over. As part of my detailed planning skills, I do not want to omit a list of possible surprise gifts, which follows here:

1. A Starbucks Gift Card – $5

2. A Starbucks Gift Card – $10

3. A Starbucks Gift Card – $15

4. A Starbucks Gift Card – $25 (If you were so nice to dish out $20 for my birthday – thanks, you can do so, but why not throw in the extra five bucks and really surprise me?)

5. A subscription to Foreign Affairs magazine (this is a politically inspired blog, after all).

6. A donation to Lovie’s Legacy; please include a note that you learned about this wonderful organization through me. I am currently on the board of Lovie’s Legacy. I believe in this nonprofit because it wants to change animal welfare by teaching children how to deal with animals, especially dogs. My belief is that true change happens when we teach our future generations how to care about and respect other living beings.

Thank you for being my friends!

P.S. Any stranger is welcome to join in the happy giving. Just leave me a comment, and it will be my pleasure to help you make sure I receive your gift.

Libya… (too bad Zimbabwe) March 29, 2011

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President Obama’s speech on March 28, 2011, that aimed to justify U.S. military involvement in Libya, left the door wide open for criticism. If the United States were to save all the people in the world from their dictators, which countries should we attack next? Is there a secret list?

In any case, my big criticism is that the United States, nor any other country that I am aware of, does not have clear principles or policies  in place that outline when a situtaion demands consideration for attacking a sovereign nation. My suspicion is that in the case of Libya, contrary to presidential sermon, moral issues were trumped by economic ones. We all know that Libya is a main supplier of oil to Europe. Furthermore, NATO pressure means that the United States needs to listen. If Europe’s economic base is hurting, the United States will share some of the pain.

Let’s shift scenery to another African nation. While President Mugabe of Zimbabwe brutally suppressed his people after they had elected another person, the World watched rather quietly (maybe there were some whispers).

Shift back to Libya. Yes, Libya is one among many north-African and Muslim countries in turmoil right now. However, if moral standards were the true reason of involvement in Libya, then why not helping Zimbabwe’s citizens?

The main difference that comes to mind is oil (a little humor is inserted here: http://www.dailysquib.co.uk/world/1407-oil-found-in-zimbabwe-uk-and-us-to-invade-next-week.html)

Europe’s interest and economic well-being affects us more than Southern Africa’s. Economic reasons always top moral reasons – and maybe they should in politics. But if that is the case, then please, don’t think we, the people, are stupid. Just be forthcoming and explain what is really going on.