Terrorism vs. Freedom, and other Deadly Problems

Jon Stewart frequently points out that while our government is quick to act to keep us safe from foreign threats, they do not do so well with domestic causes of American deaths.  He brings this up in relation to gun control whenever a large shooting occurs.

He is correct, but he is also focusing on a pretty small segment of preventable deaths.  This seems to be a theme in America.  We put our attention and effort on what are really just the wrong issues, by any meaningful measure.

Terrorism is a vanishingly small cause of American deaths (24 in 2014, none within the United States).  Yet we have presidential candidates bloviating about the reaction to any domestic attack that might occur:

If there is another terrorist attack against the United States, Chris Christie says Rand Paul should be called before Congress to answer for it.

“People are really worried about ISIS, they’re worried about the threat of terrorism, and that’s why what Rand Paul has done to make this country weaker and more vulnerable is a terrible thing. And for him to raise money off of it? It’s disgraceful,” the New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday. “He should be in hearings in front of Congress if there’s another attack, not the director of the FBI or the director of the CIA.”

The Kentucky senator and fellow GOP hopeful has been one of the most vocal opponents of the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of telephone metadata, recently leading a successful push in the Senate that resulted in the temporary expiration of surveillance programs approved under the Patriot Act. Paul’s campaign proudly sells his cheekily branded “NSA spy cam blockers” among the merchandise on its website.

“As we face a heightened warning on this Fourth of July weekend,” Christie said on Fox News Sunday, “what the American people need to know is that Sen. Paul’s conduct has made them weaker and more vulnerable to attack.”

Christie has long clashed with Paul over the spy program. The New Jersey governor believes it has helped thwart terrorist attacks after Sept. 11, while the libertarian senator says it’s unconstitutional.

Christie, a former federal prosecutor who touts that he was “appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001,” called the debate over the NSA program “esoteric.”

“These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and orphans and have that conversation,” Christie said in 2013. “And they won’t. That’s a lot tougher conversation to have.”

Paul fired back.

“If Gov. Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is ‘esoteric,’ he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans,” a senior adviser to Paul said in a statement to Politico. “Because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years.”

Senator Paul is correct.   I’m not convinced that NSA spying on Americans has made us safer.  You can’t prove a negative.  But until terrorism is actually occurring, and at a higher rate than some other preventable causes of American deaths, then I will believe that they are spying too much.

Preventable deaths:

Gun violence, 2015 through June 1 (WP):  5099

Of that 5099, people killed by police shootings:  385

Automobile accidents (2013, CDC):  30,208

Alcohol related automobile accidents (2013, CDC): 10,076

Medical errors in hospitals: (2013, NPR complitaion):  98,000 – 440,000

Heroin overdose (2013, and has doubled in 2 years, CDC): 8200

Prescription drug overdose (44 per day, current, CDC):  16,060

Suicide (2013, CDC):  41.139

Of suicides, 18-20% are veterans, although they make up only 10% of the population (News21).

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