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Reality Check (List)

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What are the odds you're going to get murdered today? Are they higher or lower than they were yesterday, or last week, or ten years ago?

Say you make it through today, what about tomorrow? What are the odds you'll get killed tomorrow... and when I say killed, I don't mean falling in the shower, or run over by a drunk driver while crossing the street – I mean killed violently by another person? 

Let's take the question down one level. What are the odds someone you love, care about or just know, will be slain today, tomorrow, or even during your entire lifetime ?

I figure the odds of any of those things happening to you or anyone you know range somewhere between slim and slimmer. And, despite  the steady flow of fear mongering out of Washington, those odds have changed little, if any, over the last six years.

Since none of us likes to think about dying, we try not to. Which is why we need to force the issue every now and then. Otherwise the terrorists win. Which terrorists? Both kinds. The Islamically-poisoned ones that want you to live in fear, and our own mis-leaders in Washington, who have found it most useful to leverage terrorist threats to keep you living in fear.

If you took to heart every claim or threat made by these two groups on any given day, you'd never leave the house.

Al-Qaida keeps claiming that the attacks of 9/11 were the first of many to come. And that the next attacks will be even bigger. 

To get itself re-elected in 2004, the Bush administration assured us they had al-Qaida on the run, that they were weaker than ever. This month the same folks, now under pressure because of it's disastrous war in Iraq, warned us that, “they're baaaaaaaaaaacccck.” That al-Qaida has regrouped and is stronger (and scarier) than ever.

Does al-Qaida and the Bush administration employ the same PR firm? Sure sounds like it. Al-Qaida says, “We're gonna get you.” The Bush administration says, “Al-Qaida is still trying to get you.” The only change today is that the administration has ginned up it's warnings, adding now that they just don't want to kill you but also “your children and grand children too.” (At this pace, can an al-Qaida threat to our family pets be far behind? Will they plant Dandelions in suburban lawns, return VHS tapes un-rewound, litter?)

I don't mean to trivialize all this. Certainly terrorism is real and terrorists hurt and kill real people somewhere on earth everyday. And I do not doubt for a second that killing Americans here is right at the top of their lunatic wish list.

All I am suggesting is that, before we decide how to respond to that threat,  we assess precisely what it is terrorist and terrorism really threatens. 

So here's my reality check.

1)What threat does Islamic terrorism pose to America?
Even at it's most vicious and effective levels, could it overthrow our government, take control of our institutions, subjugate the people and impose its will on the nation? No. Not even close. The “best” Islamic terrorists can hope is to be very annoying. By blowing things up from time to time they can disrupt a few city blocks, kill X-number of  innocent people and, in so doing, assure that the last thing the rest of Americans would want is a country run by murderous sociopaths like them.

2)How should we respond to terrorist threats and acts on US soil?
The same way we respond to other potentially lethal threats – with some degree of proportionality.  Lots of things kill Americans every year that we don't “declare war” on. For example:

Over the last 20 Years on Average:       
Americans killed each year in auto accidents    42,116
By the common flu    20,000
Murdered by common criminals  15,517

Food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses,
325,000 hospitalizations,
and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.

On 9/11 somewhere around 3000 innocent people were killed by terrorists. Since then only five people died on US soil tied to a terrorist-type attack (the Anthrax letters.) So, 3005 divided by six years gives us a rough average of 500 Americans a year dying at the hands of terrorists.

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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