The latest data on extremism and deadly violence in the United States

The Anti-Defamation League has for decades has tracked anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in the United States. In a report released 2019 January 23 (summarized here) the organization's Center on Extremism compiles the latest statistics on murders committed by persons connected with domestic extremist groups and movements in the United States. Most of these murders also take place inside the United States, though there have been exceptions.

Note that this focus excludes murders committed in the United States by foreign members of foreign terrorist groups, the most obvious example being September 11 al Qaida attacks, the most deadly terrorist incident in history. However, various other things I've read suggest that both before and since 9-11, the great majority of attacks in the United States motivated by extremism have been carried out by U.S. residents tied to home-grown extremism, even when the extremism is part of a wider-spread movement.

Three things in the report strike me as particularly interesting.

One is that during the 10-year period 2009-2018, there were 427 murders attributed to violent extremism. The report notes that as additional information becomes available, the report will be updated, so the number of murders is likely to increase some over time, especially those for the most recent years. However, the total isn't likely to change much. This isn't to minimize the danger or dismiss the pain caused to the victims and their friends and families, nor to suggest that law enforcement shouldn't continue to try to prevent terrorism (such as the violence apparently contemplated by an extremist member of the Coast Guard). Still, it's worth recognizing that at present it's nowhere near the greatest danger we face.

Also, of those 427 murders, 313 (73.3%) were carried out by persons associated with what the report classifies as right-wing extremism. A number of years ago a number of conservative pundits and politicians objected strongly to a Justice Department report on the danger of right-wing violence (perhaps because they didn't realize there was another one about the threat of left-wing violence). These numbers suggest that if one is concerned about domestic terrorism at all, extremist ideologies on the right ought to be taken into account.

Of the the 313 murders attributed to right-wing extremism, 76 percent were tied to white supremacy, 19 to anti-government extremism, 3 percent to the "involuntary celibacy" (or "incel") movement -- basically guys pissed off because the women they want won't have sex with them -- 1 percent to anti-abortion extremism, and the remainder to other right-wing causes. One could of course quibble with the classifications. Very few of those on the far right identify with the "incel" movement, for example, though on the other hand people involved in "incel" appear to be far-right in their other views. Clearly they're not fans of feminism.

It's of course also important to recognize that mainstream conservatives or liberals are pretty much by definition not extremists, despite the tendency of many on both sides to label members of the other as "far-right" or "far-left."

U.S.-based Islamist extremism accounted for 23.4 percent of the 427 extremist-affiliated murders over those ten years. Left-wing extremism, a major basis for terrorism decades ago in Europe and other parts of the world, accounted for the remaining 3.2 percent.

Finally, of the 50 murders last year (that is, 2018) attributed to extremism in the U.S., only 1 death was attributed to Islamic extremism. Of the rest, 39 were tied to white supremacy, 8 to anti-government extremism, and 2 to "incel." Interestingly, the killer deemed motivated mainly by Islamic extremism apparently also had some interest in white supremacy. Of course, any single year's data can be potentially misleading and longer-term numbers are probably more reliable as a gauge of where the dangers actually lie. Again, though, these dangers appear to be pretty small in comparison with the many other causes of violence.

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Seth Meyers interviews John Oliver

From NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers last night, a brief interview with John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on HBO. (It and Game of Thrones are literally the only things I've subscribed to HBO to watch.) I hesitate to call Last Week Tonight a comedy news show because it often does some excellent (if sometimes flawed and tendentious) serious reporting. But it's not a conventional news show either, having a studio audience, and it is of course usually pretty entertaining.

Both parts of the interview are worth seeing, but the second, shorter segment is the funniest, featuring Oliver's recollections of his British childhood, including a very small part as a child in a BBC production of Bleak House.



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Trump ignoring Magnitsky Act to annoyance of Republicans as well as Democrats

In 2009 a Russian tax attorney named Sergei Magnitsky was beaten to death in prison, having been locked up for exposing corruption involving the Russian government and oligarchs, denied medical care, and tortured in a failed attempt to make him retract what he'd said. In 2012 Congress passed the bipartisan Magnitsky Act sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) to provided financial sanctions against some of the people responsible for assaults on human rights in Russia. Two years later McCain and Cardin successfully introduced a revision of the law that isn't limited to bad actors in Russia. Following U.S. leadership, similar laws were then adopted in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Baltic states,

In October of last year, 10 senators from both parties wrote the White House a letter that began,

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requires the President, upon receipt of a request from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression, and report to the Committee within 120 days with a determination and a decision on the imposition of sanctions on that foreign person or persons.

The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights, which includes “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person.” Therefore, we request that you make a determination on the imposition of sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with respect to any foreign person responsible for such a violation related to Mr. Khashoggi. Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government has acknowledged that Kashoggi was murdered by its agents, and it's broadly accepted that this was almost certainly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammad Bin Salman al Saud, though President Trump has gone out of his way to give the prince the benefit of every possible doubt.

The administration missed the deadline to respond to the senators' letter and has publicly indicated that it has no intention of following the law, something that has angered members of both parties. A February 11 article in Politico is headlined "GOP livid with Trump over ignored Khashoggi report" and cites critical remarks from a number of senators, both Democrats and Republicans.

(For more background, see this article and this one from October. For more specifically on the Magnitsky Act, see the Wikipedia entry and this August 30 article in Time by Magnitsky's friend and business associate Bill Browder. )

Incidentally, Vladimir Putin really dislikes the Magnitsky Acts, and in retaliation for the original one, Russia stopped allowing Americans to adopt Russian children. As you probably recall, in mid-2016 Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had a meeting in Trump Tower in New York with at least five people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, in the expectation (according to a chain of emails released by Donald Trump Jr himself) of receiving information damaging to the Clinton campaign. According to later statements by Don Jr, the main topic actually discussed at the meeting was resuming those adoptions. That pretty strongly suggests the Magnitsky Act came up, and it's plausible the Russians were after a commitment from Trump to back off enforcement of the Act.

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Super Bowl party

I enjoyed the outtakes from Stephen Colbert's Super Bowl party skit more than the final version, but both are reasonably amusing, and anyway I need to post something...

As broadcast:




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The biggest living thing on Earth is dying but people are trying to save it

The most massive living thing on Earth (that we know of anyway) is a huge tree with multiple trunks. It's also described as a group of trees that are clones of each other. (Things in the real world don't always fit into simple categories.) The specific tree in question is an aspen often called Pando (Latin for "I spread"). As with redwoods, aspens reproduce by sprouting a clone from the root system, with the new trunk sharing use of the existing root. Pando is a collection of such trunks that covers over 100 acres in a national forest in central Utah.

The new sprouts are food to various foraging animals from rabbits to elk, but historically the number of foragers has been limited by predatory carnivores. Now the number of predators has declined because of human activities, and fewer predators means a larger population of prey species to eat the sprouts. If all the sprouts get eaten the older trunks eventually die without being replaced, and that's what's killing Pando. Humans are however trying to save Pando by building a fence around it.

There's more in this PBS NewHour report below:


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Is money wasted caring for people in their last year of life?

About a fourth of all Medicare spending pays for medical interventions during the last year of life. A seemingly obvious conclusion is that we could save a lot of money if we cut back on medical interventions for the very old, on the theory that a few extra days or weeks of life are not really worth the high cost, especially if those additional days or weeks are unpleasant.

There are in fact good arguments for preferring palliative care to all-out medical efforts to save a life that realistically can't be saved. There's even evidence that many people not only suffer less but even live longer with hospice treatment as opposed to extreme interventions until the very end.

But as pediatrician and Indiana University medical professor Aaron Carroll explains in the video below, things aren't as simple as they might seem. In a lot of cases doctors simply don't know whether a given very sick patient will respond well to a treatment. Some in very bad shape recover completely. And not all extreme measures are painful or unpleasant. Some improve the quality of life.

Surprisingly, despite far higher per capita healthcare spending in the United States than in other large and wealthy countries, the U.S. actually spends less on end-of-life than many others do.

Dr Carroll also addresses some other misconceptions about Medicare here. (Many still seem not to know that it doesn't cover long-term skilled nursing care, for example, or that plain traditional Medicare has no cap on sending unless you get a Medigap policy or Medicare Advantage, and the latter has some limitations.


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Donald Trump's spin about jobs data

On Twitter, Aaron Sojurner points out that while U.S. job growth has been steady since the end of the Great Recession, Donald Trump's interpretation of jobs data underwent a drastic change when he wanted to start taking credit. That's not exactly a surprise, but it's nice to see it in graphic form. Here's Sojourner's chart of Bureau of Labor Statistics data annotated to show Trump's characterizations.

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Science discovers irony

According to a news item in the January 18 issue of Science, organizers of a scientific conference to take place in Hong Kong next June discovered evidence of apparent plagiarism in a dozen submitted papers. In only two cases did the authors offer explanations deemed acceptable. The meeting in question is the 6th Worldwide Conference on Research Integrity. A couple of the flagged papers were specifically about plagiarism. You can't make this stuff up. In fairness, though, we're talking about 10 out of 430 submissions.

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The mysterious cow in space

Last June 16 a mysterious very bright spot appeared in a small, otherwise not very remarkable galaxy 200 light years (60 megaparsecs) distant from us. In a matter of days it had become about 10 times brighter than the brightest of normal supernovas, which is extra weird because bright supernovas usually take a lot longer to reach a peak. For that and other reasons astronomers aren't entirely sure what it is. Possibilities include a newly formed black hole, a star being eaten by a black hole, or a bizarre sort of neutron star, though there are potential problems with all these explanations. On top of the other weirdness, the usual astronomical way of labeling supernovas resulted in this being designated AT2018cow, so of course everybody calls it "the cow." There's more at Wikipedia, the astronomical website EarthSky, the American Astronomical Society site AASNova, and a lot of other places (just search for AT2018cow).

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