“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
VICE News and the New York Review of Books have partnered to create Talking Heads, a series about the big issues of the day as seen by the Review’s distinguished contributors.
In this episode, Alma Guillermoprieto discusses her article “Mexico: The Murder of the Young,” in which she follows the story of 43 students from a teacher’s college in the Mexican state of Guerrero who disappeared last year at the hands of corrupt police and a local drug gang. She describes how the search for their bodies revealed that much of the state is a gravesite, and reflects on what distinguished this event from the many thousands of murders that preceded it.
VICE News sat down with Guillermoprieto to discuss how systemic corruption and an ill-conceived war on drugs has created an anarchic setting for indiscriminate violence in Mexico.
In the past several weeks, gunfire and explosions have pierced the night in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital. The identity of the shooters has remained a mystery, although many suspect the police, in conjunction with the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party. Considered by some to be an armed militia, the Imbonerakure have been accused of helping police quell dissidents. In neighborhoods where residents are opposed to Burundi’s ruling party and therefore subject to the night raids, people have organized to protect themselves — destroying entrances to neighborhoods, creating a communication system that notifies residents when an intruder has entered the community.
VICE News visits an opposition neighborhood in Bujumbura during the night to see what defense measures have been put in place, and witnesses the aftermath of the violence.
An FBI official said late Tuesday that “there is no indication at this point that anybody else was involved”
Investigators have no evidence that anyone but a lone gunman was involved in the fatal shooting of four marines at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said an FBI official late on Tuesday night.
The gunman, identified by FBI officials in Knoxville, was 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, although the spelling of his first name was in dispute, with federal officials and records giving at least four variations. He was believed to have been born in Kuwait, and it was unclear whether he was a U.S. or Kuwaiti citizen, a U.S. official requesting anonymity told The Associated Press. He resided in Hixson, Tennessee, which is a few miles across the river from Chattanooga.
Abdulazeez fired from inside his car when he went to the recruitment center, but then got out of the vehicle to shoot the four marines at the training center, FBI agent Ed Reinhold told a news conference late Thursday.
In addition to the Marines killed, three people were reported wounded, including a sailor who was seriously hurt.
Authorities would not say how the gunman died, but the U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Chattanooga police fired the fatal shot that killed him. At least one military commander at the scene also fired at Abdulazeez with his personal weapon, but forensic investigators determined that police killed him, the official said.
Reinhold said Abdulazeez had “numerous weapons” but would not give details. He said investigators have “no idea” what motivated the shooter, but “we are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism, whether it’s domestic, international, or whether it was a simple criminal act.”
Reinhold also said late Thursday “there is no indication at this point that anybody else was involved.”
Burundi once enjoyed a vibrant media scene, with many independent journalists and radio stations operating freely. Yet when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a highly contested third term in office in April, it sparked mass protests. Since then, authorities and pro-government bodies have intimidated and arrested journalists.
The attempted coup d’etat in capital Bujumbura on May 13 was the tipping point for free media in Burundi. The offices of independent radio stations were firebombed for reporting information about the coup and fierce fighting broke out over control of the state media headquarters. Most of the offices remain shuttered to this day, and access to information has been suppressed in the weeks since, as rumors of a civil war run rampant throughout the city.
VICE News goes on a tour of media offices that have been firebombed, and visits the last standing independent newspaper in Bujumbura.
Watch “Inside a Bujumbura Opposition Stronghold: Burundi on the Brink (Dispatch 2)” – http://bit.ly/1K47okc
Ahead of South Carolina visit, Republican presidential candidate says it is better to identify potentially violent people before they commit crimes
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks at a campaign event Saturday in Henderson, Nevada. Photograph: John Locher/AP
New gun control measures are not the way to prevent mass killings such as the shooting deaths of nine people in a South Carolina church, the Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on Saturday.
Bush, who plans to meet black ministers in Charleston, South Carolina, on Monday, said identifying potentially violent people before they committed such crimes was a better approach than further restrictions on gun ownership.
Bush also said gun control was an issue that should be sorted out at the state level. “Rural areas are very different than big, teeming urban areas,” he said.
The comments came less than a day after Barack Obama eulogized the pastorwho was shot to death on 17 June with eight parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist church.
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. Sporadically, our eyes are open,” Obama said. “But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day.”
Bush also told reporters he was disappointed in both supreme court rulings from the last week that upheld Obama’s health care overhaul and legalized gay marriage nationwide.
He said he would repeal the health care law if elected.
As for gay marriage, Bush said he believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman but indicated he wouldn’t fight the court’s ruling. He said long-term loving relationships should be respected as well as a person’s ability to express their religious beliefs.
Despite signs of decline in gun ownership, the US still has a huge number of private guns. In 2012, Americans owned an estimated 270 million guns, almost 42 percent of the total number of civilian-owned guns on the entire planet:
In developed countries, there is a strong correlation between the number of guns and incidences of gun violence. In 2012, the US, which has the most guns per capita, also had the most firearm-related homicides of developed countries. Japan, which has the lowest rate of gun ownership, had the least:
Looking at the entire world, countries in Central America like Honduras, El Salvador, or Mexico have the most gunhomicides per capita. But among the developed countries, none gets even close to the US.
Note: The world crime figures cited above are collected by the UNODCthrough its annual crime survey and were compiled by the Guardian.
(SITTWE, Myanmar) — American actor Matt Dillon put a rare star-powered spotlight on Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims, visiting a hot, squalid camp for tens of thousands displaced by violence and a port that has served as one of the main launching pads for their exodus by sea.
It was “heartbreaking,” he said after meeting a young man with a raw, open leg wound from a road accident and no means to treat it.
Mothers carrying babies with clear signs of malnutrition stood listlessly outside row after row of identical bamboo huts, toddlers playing nearby in the chalky white dust.
“No one should have to live like this, people are really suffering,” said Dillon, one of the first celebrities to get a first-hand look at what life is like for Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine. “They are being strangled slowly, they have no hope for the future and nowhere to go.”
Though Rohingya have been victims of state-sponsored discrimination for decades, conditions started deteriorating three years ago after the predominantly Buddhist country of 50 million began its bumpy transition from a half-century of dictatorship to democracy.
An architect of the “Boston miracle,” Rev. Jeffrey Brown started out as a bewildered young pastor watching his Boston neighborhood fall apart around him, as drugs and gang violence took hold of the kids on the streets. The first step to recovery: Listen to those kids, don’t just preach to them, and help them reduce violence in their own neighborhoods. It’s a powerful talk about listening to make change.
As the US debates drug policy reforms and marijuana legalization, there’s one aspect of the war on drugs that remains perplexingly contradictory: some of the most dangerous drugs in the US are legal.
Don’t believe it? The available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows tobacco, alcohol, and opioid-based prescription painkillers were responsible for more direct deaths in one year than any other drug. The chart above compares those drug deaths with the best available data for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana deaths.
Now, this chart isn’t a perfect comparison across the board. One driver of tobacco and alcohol deaths is that both substances are legal and easily available. Other substances would likely be far deadlier if they were as available as tobacco and alcohol. (Heroin-linked deaths in particular have been trending up since 2010, topping 8,200 in 2013, making heroin deadlier overall than cocaine.) And federal data excludes some deaths, particularly less direct illicit drug deaths, which is why the chart focuses on direct health complications for all drugs.
Deaths also aren’t the only way to compare drugs’ harms. Some drugs, such as alcohol and cocaine, may induce dangerous behavior that makes someone more predisposed to violence or crime. Other drugs may trigger underlying mental health problems or psychotic episodes, like hallucinogenics. When evaluating the overall harm caused by drugs, all of these factors should be taken into account.
But the absolute numbers for deaths show legality doesn’t necessarily correlate with safety. Sometimes, like in the case of alcohol and tobacco, dangerous drugs have been kept legal because they’re so ingrained in the US economy and culture that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to try to ban them. Other times, as with prescription painkillers, dangerous drugs are kept legal to serve an important medical purpose. These types of considerations are just some of the many factors that play into drug policymaking, which is very often about picking the best of a lot of bad or mediocre options instead of finding the perfect solution.
Still, the death tolls show that the legal drugs remain a major public health problem — and, according to experts and researchers, policymakers could do more to curb deaths caused by the three deadliest drugs.
When it comes to deadliness, no single substance comes close to tobacco. To put its risk in perspective, fewer Americans die from reported drug overdoses, traffic accidents, and homicides combined than tobacco-caused health problems like lung cancer and heart disease.
The chart at the top of this article actually understates the number of tobacco deaths, since it only considers the most direct causes of deaths and excludes secondhand smoking, perinatal conditions, and residential fires.
Overall, cigarette smoking is linked to one in five deaths in the US each year, according to CDC estimates for average annual fatalities based on deaths between 2005 and 2009. Nearly 42,000 of the total 480,000 deaths from smoking are caused by secondhand smoke.
US tobacco use has greatly declined in the past several decades, although nearly one in five high school students and adults still smoked cigarettes in 2011. Experts attribute the decline to various factors, including education campaigns, mandatory warning labels, public and workplace smoking bans, and higher taxes on tobacco products. Continuing these efforts, public health officials hope, will continue pushing down the rate of smoking in the US.
Alcohol-induced health problems, such as liver disease, led to more than 26,000 deaths in 2011. But that actually under-counts the number of deaths caused by alcohol: when including other causes of death like drunk driving and other accidents, the toll rises to 88,000 per year.
Even this higher number may understate the more general risk of alcohol. A previous analysis, led by British researcher David Nutt and published in The Lancet, took a comprehensive look at 20 of the world’s most popular drugs and the risks they pose in the UK. A conference of drug experts measured all the factors involved — mortality, other physical damage, chance of developing dependence, impairment of mental function, effect on crime, and so on — and assigned each drug a score. They concluded alcohol is by far the most dangerous drug to society as a whole.
What makes alcohol so dangerous? The health effects of excessive drinking and drunk driving are two obvious problems. But there are other major issues rooted in alcohol-induced aggression and erratic behavior: injuries, economic productivity costs, family adversities, and even crime. (Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.)
Still, The Lancet‘s report has come under some major criticisms. Although drug policy experts generally agree that alcohol is dangerous — and definitely more dangerous than marijuana — they argue the report misses some of the nuance behind each drug’s harms. For one, it doesn’t entirely control for the availability of these drugs, so it’s possible heroin and crack cocaine in particular would be ranked higher if they were as readily available as alcohol. And the findings are based on the UK, so the specific scores would likely differ to some extent for the US — particularly for meth, which is more widely available in the states.
alcohol is definitely more dangerous than marijuana
To show the Nutt analysis’s flaws, Jon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, gave the example of an alien race visiting Earth and asking which land animal is the biggest. If the question is about weight, the African elephant is the biggest land animal. But if it’s about height, the giraffe is the biggest. And if the question is about length, the reticulated python is the biggest.
“You can always create some composite, but composites are fraught with problems,” Caulkins said. “I think it’s more misleading than useful.”
The blunt measures of drug harms present similar issues. Alcohol, tobacco, and prescription painkillers are likely deadlier than other drugs because they are legal, so comparing their aggregate effects to illegal drugs is difficult. Some drugs are very harmful to individuals, but they’re so rarely used that they may not be a major public health threat. A few drugs are enormously dangerous in the short-term but not the long-term (heroin), or vice versa (tobacco). And looking at deaths or other harms caused by certain drugs doesn’t always account for substances, such as prescription medications, that are often mixed with others, making them more deadly or harmful than they would be alone.
Still, experts acknowledge, it’s clear alcohol is dangerous and deadly. To curb the deaths and risks linked to alcohol, experts often suggest tighter regulations, taxes, and more education. A previous analysis by the RAND Corporation found that states that sold alcohol through tightly regulated, state-run establishments kept prices higher, reduced access for youth, and decreased drinking overall. And studies show that higher alcohol taxes could reduce consumption and, as a result, the problems the drug causes.