Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Obama’s Answer to the Gun Question: The Necessary Addenda

June 5th, 2016 Comments off

Obama got the gun question at a town hall meeting:

Knowing that we apply common sense to other issues in our society, specifically like holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions when they drink and drive and kill somebody, and we do that without restricting control of cars and cells phones to the rest of us, the good guys, why then do you and Hillary want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners and responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?

And Mr. President if I may, I would like to use Chicago your hometown, a city that has the strictest gun laws in the nation, a city that for decades and still is under Democratic control, a city that has an outrageous and even embarrassing murder rate, as my first example. Why can’t we round up these thugs, these drug dealers, and gang members, and hold them accountable for their actions, or allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves?

If you watch the video below, you’ll see Obama’s reaction, and it’s a good one—he makes several points about gun control which are very reasonable—but he does not answer some of the key right-wing lies about guns and gun control in the United States.

Let’s review this question from top to bottom.

Knowing that we apply common sense to other issues in our society, specifically like holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions when they drink and drive and kill somebody, and we do that without restricting control of cars…

The argument he is giving is a common one amongst gun advocates: for everything else, we punish people for improper actions; we do not restrict prior to that improper action.

We don’t have car control, so why do we have gun control?

However, the fact is, there are far more controls and restrictions to cars than there are to guns.

With a car, you often have to go through extensive training and testing, especially if you are a teen; not so for guns in most places in the U.S.

With a car, you have to get a license and maintain it for your lifetime, something most people don’t have to do with guns—less and less often, in fact, as concealed-carry gun laws are relaxed more often than not.

With a car, you have to register the vehicle and maintain that registration—rarely so with guns.

In addition to that, both cars and guns are treated in the same way in terms of “holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions.” You drive drunk, you get arrested; you discharge a weapon irresponsibly, you get arrested.

So really, the primary difference between guns and cars is that cars have far more prior restraint laws than guns—something which the questioner calls “common sense.” Hmm.

Most gun control advocates would love to see guns treated exactly the same way cars are. No hope of that in the near future, however.

Secondly, the speaker says:

…why then do you and Hillary want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners and responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?

First of all, gun control is aimed at everyone, not just the “good guys,” as this man claims, and more at the bad guys than the good.

Training and safety laws are for everyone (just like they are with cars). But background checks and registration, in addition to laws that prohibit mass purchases of weapons, are aimed at stopping the bad guys in particular.

Next, since when does anyone not “[hold] the bad guys accountable for their actions”? The suggestion is ludicrous. Of course we do.

The whole idea of gun control, aside from basic safety and competency, is to limit the access criminals and the mentally unstable have to weapons—and, as Obama pointed out, the NRA and so many gun advocates, like the questioner, are the people who are tying their hands, preventing us from keeping guns out of the hands of the irresponsible and the criminal. Obama answers it in greater length in his reply, which you can watch below.

Finally, the speaker moves on to an egregiously specious right-wing talking point: that gun control doesn’t work, and Chicago is a perfect example of why not. Conservatives love this, because it allows them to attack Democrats, black people, and gun control all at once.

I would like to use Chicago your hometown, a city that has the strictest gun laws in the nation, a city that for decades and still is under Democratic control, a city that has an outrageous and even embarrassing murder rate, as my first example. Why can’t we round up these thugs, these drug dealers, and gang members, and hold them accountable for their actions, or allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves?

First, there’s the suggestion that “these thugs, these drug dealers, and gang members” (gee, I wonder who he’s talking about?) are not being hunted or prosecuted for gun violence—an astonishingly incorrect assertion, one which, I believe, the Chicago PD would vigorously disagree with.

Second, he mentions that Chicago has been under Democratic control (at least he didn’t say “Democrat” control), as if somehow Democratic leaders somehow encourage gang violence.

People in urban areas tend to vote Democratic, and urban areas have more gun crime—but neither is the cause or the effect of the other, any more than meth use is caused by Republicans because it happens a lot in rural areas. Why doesn’t he try asking the Republican leaders in those areas why the meth dealers aren’t all “rounded up” and “held responsible”? Maybe it has to do with the fact that law enforcement is not quite as simple as that.

Third, he asks Obama why we shouldn’t “allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves.”

Wait—are drug dealers and gang members breaking into homes in such a way that armed citizens could repel them? Obviously not. The only connection between the two is ambiguous at best—people armed in their homes could not really do anything to affect gun violence on the streets. I don’t know if he understands exactly how gang violence works.

That’s what happens when you regurgitate random memes—you stop making much sense. Like, “There’s a problem with too many shootings, so why don’t we add more guns to the equation?” It’s like suggesting that we have too many explosions happening, so let’s get more sticks of dynamite and more matches, that ought to solve the problem.“

But wait, the questioner is directly stating that law-abiding people cannot have weapons in Chicago: ”Why can’t we… allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms…?“

Is there a gun ban in Chicago? Exactly how hard is it to get a gun there?

Turns out, this guy is dead wrong: in Chicago, you can absolutely get a gun to protect yourself. And it’s easier to do so than it is to get a car.

Illinois requires an ”FOID,“ a kind of ID card, to get a gun for the home. It’s called a ”license,“ but it’s not really—it’s more like a certification that you have undergone background checks. No training or testing is required just for that. In fact, many red states require the same or more for voter ID, and they claim it is not a difficulty at all, even when they shut down most offices which provide such ID.

In Chicago proper, you need to get a ”Chicago Firearms Permit.“ It costs about $150 and requires 5 hours of training. That’s less than the the minimum possible requirement for getting a driver’s license. Getting a driver’s license also requires a behind-the-wheel test, which requires a great deal more practice, making getting a gun far easier.

In Chicago, within 5 days of a gun purchase, you have to register your gun—a much cheaper and less involved process than registering a car.

Concealed carry is also legal in Chicago, you just need 16 hours of training, another $175 or so.

So, although the questioner suggests that law-abiding citizens somehow aren’t allowed to get guns in Chicago, it turns out that it’s actually not that hard. Get an ID card, pay some fees, take a few hours of training, and bam, you have your gun. Another few days of classes, and you can do concealed carry. Even going so far as to get concealed-carry is less effort and expense than getting a driver’s license.

In Chicago, the laws which, the main restriction is against assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. However, it is perfectly legal to purchase and own weapons in the city and county.

So, exactly what is it that is ”not allowing“ the ”good people“ from owning guns?

Nothing—except in his imagination.

But then there’s the final, and biggest canard: that gun control doesn’t work. Obama only peripherally responded to this, by noting that one can buy as many guns as you like somewhere else, and even ISIL sympathizers can’t be stopped.

That’s a good reply, but he missed a golden opportunity in regards to the ”patchwork quilt“ and his own home state of Hawaii.

The reason why we have a gun problem is not because gun control laws don’t work, it’s because gun control laws are not allowed to work. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and in terms of gun control, the country is riddled with weak links: cities, counties, and entire states with weak and permissive gun laws.

If you have a boat and want to stay afloat, you can’t have any leaks. Even if this part of the hull is sound, and that part of the hull is sound, if there are leaks elsewhere, the boat sinks.

The United States is like a boat in this respect. It doesn’t matter if Chicago has strong gun control laws, and New York has strong gun control laws; if there are leaks—cities, counties, and states with weak gun control—the boat sinks. But not because of the places with strong gun control. The boat does not sink because of the places where the hull is strong, it sinks because of the leaks and the weak spots.

And yet people point to the strong parts of the boat, then point to all the water leaking in, and then claim that the leaking is because of the strong parts. Their solution: create more holes and let in more water.

I suppose it makes sense: if you’re at the bottom of the lake, you don’t have to worry about leaks any more!

This is the ”patchwork quilt“ problem: gun control in one area is compromised by no gun control in a nearby area.

Ironically, conservatives have been caught making this exact argument: Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit again Colorado because of Colorado’s permissive marijuana laws. Their argument: because you can get pot legally in Colorado, residents of Nebraska and Oklahoma have been going to Colorado, buying pot, and bringing it back to their home states.

Which is exactly why gun control doesn’t work. Apparently, conservatives only see this as a problem when it’s a mild recreational drug, and not an epidemic of deadly weapons causing the deaths of thousands of people.

The fact that states with strong gun control laws find that the vast majority of guns used for crime come from out of state helps prove this point; if gun control doesn’t work, then why are almost all the guns coming from places without gun control?

Hawaii is the best proof of gun control working: it’s an island state far from the mainland. You cannot simply drive to another state to buy a gun. In this way, Hawaii is it’s own boat; weak gun control in other states won’t affect the state.

Hawaii does have good gun control laws. In addition to assault weapon bans, there is state-wide gun registration required. Home ownership requires at least 6 hours of training. There is a 2-week waiting period. Background checks are required. Concealed-carry and open-carry are technically legal, but heavily restricted, only issued in ”exceptional“ cases.

In all, Hawaii has stronger gun control than Chicago. And guess what? Hawaii has the lowest gun death rate in the country, and has one of the lowest gun crime rates in the nation.

Is it only because people in Hawaii are stripped of their guns? Hardly. There are still more guns than people in Hawaii. 400,000 have been registered in the last 15 years, and an estimated 1,000,000 guns exist in private hands since before then.

So we have (a) strong gun control laws, (b) lots of guns in responsible hands, (c) few criminals with guns, and (d) a low gun crime and death rate.

Gun control does work. The problem is places without gun control, not places with it.

More complete video on PBS’s Facebook page here.

Categories: Security, Social Issues Tags:

Obama, Newtown, and Gun Control

December 17th, 2012 1 comment

Wow. My father and I watched Obama’s speech at the vigil in Newtown tonight, and noted along with everyone else how he made an unmistakable reference to gun control. Making that reference in his announcement the day of the shooting was one thing; his mention of it tonight was extraordinary.

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

It’s rather unmistakable that he’s referring to gun violence. References to shootings, to specific killings and massacres in Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, Columbine, and Blacksburg.

Most notable is his reference at the end, that we cannot continue to believe that the victims of gun crimes are the price for our freedom.

Obama did mention mental health professionals and educators, so it’s not just gun control he’s talking about. And that seems like a smart way to present the issue, as a package with gun control wrapped up with other measures.

What was remarkable was that Fox did not, at least initially, react violently against this. The talking heads on FNC even sounded open to new gun control legislation. Whether this is just them knowing when not to fight back, or if it is the talking heads taking marching orders from Murdoch, who approves of gun control, is not yet clear.

Whatever the case, we might actually get reasonable gun control.

It is just unbearably sad that it took something like this to finally set that into motion.

Categories: Security, Social Issues Tags:

Benghazi, Part II

November 18th, 2012 1 comment

This seems to be the core outcome of Petraeus’ testimony, at least as far as Republicans are concerned:

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), exiting yesterday from a closed door meeting with Petraeus, said the retired general told the House Homeland Security Committee that the original CIA-drafted talking points named two militant groups — Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — but that those references were removed from the version ultimately used by Rice.

King, recounting Petraeus’ testimony, said, “It was a long process, an interagency process and when they came back it had been taken out.”

There was instead only a passing reference to “extremists” in the final draft.

Petraeus reportedly told the lawmakers he wasn’t sure which agency replaced the groups’ names with the word “extremist” in the final draft.

“The fact is, the reference to al-Qaeda was taken out somewhere along the line by someone outside the intelligence community,” King said. “We need to find out who did it and why.”

Ah. So, in an intelligence report which informed the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the names of groups seen as responsible were scrubbed somewhere along the line.

Let me see, where did we see this before? Oh, wasn’t that is the Bush administration, when Colin Powell went before the U.N. with all that fake info?

Gee, what was Congressman King’s reaction when he discovered that Powell’s information was entirely wrong? Apparently, he was not very concerned and did not call for an investigation. In fact, King was later a vocal supporter of Colin Powell when there was speculation that Powell would Run for Hillary. Instead, King among others is calling Rice incompetent, apparently for reporting what she had been told.

Whatever the case, incorrect information about security affairs was publicly given by the Obama administration. So, should I be condemning them the way I would equally condemn the Bush administration?

Let’s see. Powell’s testimony was slanted, but we now know it was intentionally slanted by those inside the Bush administration. That testimony helped start a war which cost the lives of thousands of U.S. troops, tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens, and helped bankrupt the nation.

There is no outcome in the current case which is even remotely similar. No decade-long ground war in Libya or anywhere else that will begin as a result.

With Powell’s testimony, there was a clear motive for releasing false information. With Rice’s testimony, there was no motive—Obama stood to gain nothing from misrepresenting the cause of the attack. In fact, he may be lauded for not crying terrorism—we recall that Bush, in 2004, did exactly that, inflating claims of imminent terrorism to make people more aware a policy area that favored Bush, just as that exact same policy area now favors Obama. Obama, however, was cautiously quiet, where he would have benefitted to make a big deal out of it. The opposite of a scandal.

In the case of Powell’s testimony, it was clear that the data was intentionally altered in order to promote an agenda of war. In the case of Rice’s testimony, there was no motive for anything; it appears to be nothing more than a bureaucratic or clerical screw-up at least, or some minor intrigue within the intelligence community at most.

We still do not even know how the names were taken from the reports, or even if there was any intent to do so. But even assuming the worst, there is nothing more than a need to fix that cog in the machine.

So King, who overlooked an intentional intelligence scandal when his party was in charge, will likely be trying to invent an equivalent scandal where none exists. As will McCain and the rest of the GOP.

Because, you know, they’re all so bipartisan and stuff. America First. Reaching across the aisle to strangle the opposition.

Do Police Ever Do Anything about Theft?

June 3rd, 2011 2 comments

Back in 2003, in one of my very early blog posts, I related the story of a man who got scammed on eBay. He sold his PowerBook for $3000 to someone who turned out to be a serial con artist. As is sometimes the case with Mac users, he was not willing to let it go, and became relentless in hunting down the guy who stole his goods and left him in the lurch. He reported it to the police, who did nothing.

Eventually, he learned pretty much everything about the criminal: his name, address, telephone number, and evidence of other crimes. All the police had to do, literally, was to go to the address and arrest the guy. They brushed him off. He tried the police where he lived, where the criminal lived, the FBI, even the Secret Service on the off chance that counterfeiting involved could be in their jurisdiction. Nothing. A citizen had all the goods on a criminal guilty of larceny and fraud, served him up on a platter, and several different enforcement offices gave him the brush-off.

Fortunately, this guy caught a break–the criminal used a new address at one point which was in the jurisdiction of a smaller police precinct, which did what any police authority should have done–drove over and arrested the guy, who was in possession of more than $10,000 in counterfeit checks at the time. A few hours’ work, and a serial criminal was behind bars. It doesn’t often get easier than that.

I was reminded by this when I saw of similar case in the news today. Over the years, there have been many such stories–people with Apple gear go to lengths to get it back, often with the help of good security software and/or the Mac community–but this one caught my eye because it echoed the 2003 case regarding police attitudes.

A guy in Oakland, CA, Joshua Kaufman, had his Macbook stolen in a home robbery in March. He reported this to the police, who quickly did nothing. Fortunately, this guy had been prepared: he had purchased a $15 app called “Hidden,” which lurks in the background on your computer, and, if stolen, can snap camera images and screen shots, and give network information leading to the location of the person in possession of the computer.

Sure enough, Kaufman started getting this data. With the information provided by the app, he was able to inform the police of all they needed to know: the address of the person with the stolen device and photographs of him using it. Certainly enough for a search warrant, at least.

The police did nothing. Citing a “lack of resources,” they could not be bothered to send a single car to the address and pick up the person.

So Kaufman went a different way: he started a Tumblr page on May 27, telling the story and posting images of the person using the computer and sleeping in front of it, and screenshots of activities suggesting guilt, like deleting the previous user’s account. A few days later, on May 31, a tweet he posted caught fire, and the media started paying attention. (It might have helped that one of the images showed the guy shirtless in bed using the computer, for what the rightful owner did not want to know.)

Where were the police? Ready to spring to action! Uh, only after Good Morning America called them and asked them why they were sitting on their asses when low-hanging fruit was just sitting there.

When they got that call, they finally did what they should have done weeks earlier, and arrested the guy.

How did the police explain their inaction? The case was “incorrectly closed.” Right. The officer went on to say, “It shows that when the system works, it works great. The diligence of Mr. Kaufman is exactly what we need – people who are engaged and are making an effort to reduce crime.”

No, what we need are police who will act on reports. Kaufman was engaged, the police were not.

Now, I understand that police are bogged down. They have more important things to do than to track down lost wallets or follow up on petty theft reports. But I do not think that it is unreasonable to expect at least some effort, even the smallest amount, in response to theft crimes. Hell, if I were a criminal, I would probably feel like I could get away with anything, so long as I didn’t steal from someone too wealthy or influential.

Seriously–when police are given the name and address of someone and proof of the crime committed, even photos of them in the act, but cannot be bothered to do the least that is possible for them–drive over and arrest the person who has been fully identified–then what’s the point of even making theft a punishable offense?

Categories: Security, Social Issues Tags:

It’s Not Over

May 3rd, 2011 2 comments

I agree with the right-wingers on one thing: it’s not over. The “War on Terror” was not really a war to begin with, but what it really was–an attempt to quell the use of terror tactics by fundamentalists and others as a result of our Middle East policies–was around well before bin Laden, and will continue. Bin Laden’s death was significant, but not in that it ends all of our problems.

Getting bin Laden was not the magic bullet that makes terrorism stop. It was, however, greatly symbolic, and has value to that extent. It could be, in a way, our excuse to leave. Because Afghanistan was not really crucial to end the bigger problem, and Iraq certainly wasn’t. The answers lie elsewhere.

Do we need to be in Afghanistan? Will it bring great harm if we leave? Depends on what’s important to you, and what you think we can accomplish. I’m not expert, so my guess here is just that–a blind guess. But I would imagine that in the long run, it won’t make much difference. Unless we expend huge amounts of money and a great many lives to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely–which I do not see as being feasible–the country will probably, inevitably, devolve back into something similar to what it was before. Will that harm us and the region? Possibly, but I would argue that it would not be much better overall if we stayed.

We need to get out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan. We need to make the military into something far less bloated, far more surgical and precise. This is not a new idea, but it is a good one. Do this, cut the hundreds of billions wasted in that part of the budget, bring back more reasonable tax rates for the wealthy and corporations, and we stand a good shot of turning this sucker around. And maybe this event today was what we needed to start doing that.

Not that I think it’ll happen.

Categories: Security, The Obama Administration Tags:

Credit Where It Is Due

May 3rd, 2011 3 comments

Here’s a question: who thinks that if Palin were president, she would have gotten bin Laden?

No, I don’t, either.

Nor do I believe McCain would have. Despite his bluster about knowing exactly how to capture bin Laden but he would tell us ONLY if he became president, McCain, during the debates, not only gave no clue about how to do it, but he opposed Obama’s idea of unilaterally going into Pakistan were we to find Osama there. Remember? And other Republican contenders echoed that sentiment.

If McCain had won, bin Laden would most likely still be alive today.

Nor does Bush deserve any credit. He had more than seven years to get the job done. He blew it. And he left Obama no leads, those developed only after Obama brought bin Laden back into our sights.

In the end, Obama was the one who got the job done. This was no accident of timing, he was no bystander. He’s not perfect, he’s not a miracle worker, and yes, I don’t like a lot of the crap he’s still doing. But he got this one right, and he didn’t do it at the expense of something else more important.

Categories: Security, The Obama Administration Tags:

Bin Laden Dead

May 2nd, 2011 12 comments

It took Bush seven years and he didn’t get close. Obama got him in two years.

Had this happened under Bush, even after seven years, one can assume that this would have been the beginning of a weeks-long self-congratulatory paroxysm of crowing amongst right-wingers, with the media showering praise on Bush in particular, followed by a double-digit jump in his popularity ratings.

One wonders how this will be handled differently now that it took Barack Hussein Obama, in a long-planned and well-coordinated mission, to accomplish.

Bush in March 2002, when he was diverting his attention from bin Laden and Afghanistan so he could prosecute the war in Iraq instead:

… I don’t know where [bin Laden] is. I — I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.

Obama in 2008:

And we have a difficult situation in Pakistan. I believe that part of the reason we have a difficult situation is because we made a bad judgment going into Iraq in the first place when we hadn’t finished the job of hunting down bin Laden and crushing al Qaeda.

So what happened was we got distracted, we diverted resources, and ultimately bin Laden escaped, set up base camps in the mountains of Pakistan in the northwest provinces there. …

And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out.

Nor was this a chance or accidental result; Obama was truly focusing on the task, while Bush let his attention wander almost immediately. Obama today:

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda. Even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat his network.

Then last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain. And it took many months to run this thread to ground.

I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan.

And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abad Abad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties.

And, time until conservatives find some way to criticize Obama for taking out bin Laden, in three, two….

Categories: Security, The Obama Administration Tags:

If Only Someone Else Had Had a Gun

January 24th, 2011 7 comments

It’s a common fantasy repeated endlessly by gun enthusiasts. When you get a crazy person who walks into a crowd and starts shooting people, some of us begin to question the overly-lax gun laws and start suggesting that at least some reasonable, even ridiculously mild form of gun control–you know, like allowing clips that hold only ten bullets instead of thirty so crazy people can only shoot a more limited number of people. At which point the enthusiasts disagree (some vehemently), and that’s when they bring up the fantasy.

“It’s too bad that one of the victims wasn’t armed, or better yet, all of them,” they lament. They envision a scenario in which a shooter would immediately meet return fire and be taken down before many people got hurt. After the shooting in Arizona, local congressman Trent Franks deplored, “I wish there had been one more gun in Tucson.”

The reality is much more complicated. The fact is, there was an armed citizen nearby when Loughner began his shooting spree in Arizona; the man immediately grabbed his gun, ran to the scene of the shooting–and very nearly shot one of the people who was subduing the gunman. This was not some frazzled dimwit, but someone who seemed to know their way around a gun, who seemed completely reasonable and responsible.

As if to back up the point, in Detroit yesterday, a gunman walked into a building filled with people and opened fire, shooting one man in the back and hitting three others before someone returned fire and killed the man. You might think that this is the fantasy situation fulfilled–that there was an armed person nearby who was able to return fire. In a sense, this is true: the building was a police station. There were lots of armed people there. And yet, four people got shot before someone returned fire, and the situation was less than controlled:

“Utter chaos and pandemonium took place,” Police Chief Ralph Godbee said at a news conference. “We have a number of officers who are shaken up.”

Even when nearly everyone in the room is armed, a gunman can still do a great amount of damage. Even trained, experienced police officers do not always react like the hero-fantasy expects. If a room full of professional gun-bearers reacted like that to random gun violence, can we really expect randomly armed citizens to do much better?

Also keep in mind that in the Detroit case, the gunman did not even have as deadly a gun as Loughner did. Furthermore, these are scenarios where the gunman comes in and starts firing with no thought to protecting himself. If the gunman has even the slightest ability to plan ahead and work out a scenario more complex than “walk in and start shooting,” he could potentially employ strategies that would allow him to do even more harm against rooms filled with armed people.

As for arming everyone, let’s also remember that there are few places which require a gun owner to train in the use of the weapon or to take even rudimentary safety instruction. Is it ever a good idea to suggest that more untrained people go around armed? We would not imagine allowing people to drive cars without going through at least basic instruction and testing, and most Americans value their right to own and drive a car more than they would to own a gun. Yet few question the wisdom of training, licensing, and registration where motor vehicles are concerned.

As has been pointed out:

A panel of criminology and statistics experts with the National Research Council the National Academies published a study in 2004 that found no reduced crime in states with right-to-carry (RTC) laws.

A 2010 study from Stanford Law School found that “the most consistent, albeit not uniform, finding to emerge from the array of models is that aggravated assault rises when RTC laws are adopted.”

Now, before anyone gets on their high horse, I do not advocate gun bans. (Most gun enthusiasts immediately jump to that conclusion even when the opposite is clearly pointed out; it’s the knee-jerk straw-man argument.) But I do advocate firm, reasonable gun control, of a nature that minimizes any impact on the law-abiding citizen but maximizes impact on those who would purchase guns for illicit use. As has been pointed out, at the very least, we know that lives would have been saved had Loughner been restricted to a 10-bullet clip rather than a 30-bullet clip; the larger-capacity clip had been banned before the Republican congress let it die, and let’s face it–it is the epitome of the reasonable gun control law. No hunter or home protector needs a 30-bullet clip, it’s an accessory for people who are either too lazy to reload more often, or for people who want to kill the largest number of human beings before they have to pause before killing more.

I also question the legitimacy of the assumption that simply putting more guns in the hands of more people more of the time–especially when there is no mandatory safety training–will result in less violence. Something about that just doesn’t ring true for some reason.

Right now, a lot of the people who would still defend preventing even eminently reasonable gun control measures say that it’s about controlling the gunman, not the gun. The problem is, Loughner should have been denied the ability to buy guns and ammunition–it’s not like his unbalanced state was a secret or anything–but the same people who fight reasonable gun control measures also fight against laws which would, in fact, control the crazy people who fire guns at crowds of people. Background checks, mental instability provisions, efficient networks to register and keep track of such individuals, and other checks that could have at least slowed Loughner down are just as hated by the gun crowd, who argue that such laws either inconvenience them or could be abused by the government to disarm normal law-abiding folk.

Having armed people nearby could–potentially–save lives, if those people are properly trained. It almost certainly did in the Detroit police station. However, having more guns around is not always the best way to deal with the problem, and reasonable gun control laws are probably a much better idea.

Categories: Law, Security, Social Issues Tags:

WikiLeaks and Secrecy

December 6th, 2010 5 comments

The whole WikiLeaks thing is becoming a bit ridiculous. Whatever you think of the leak itself, the nature of diplomacy, and the motivations of Julian Assange, how the government is handling the incident is somewhat absurd. I am not speaking of the rather heavy-handed way Assange is being treated–you may find it excusable or even a good idea so as to discourage interruption of diplomatic efforts. Instead, I refer to the way the government is dealing with the spread of the information.

So far, WikiLeaks has been removed from a variety of servers, and various URLs have been revoked. Sorry, but this is rather stupid. If I wanted, it would be child’s play to get the data. Not only did they find an alternate URL (U.S. news outlets link to it in their articles), but mirror sites have popped up all over the Internet. Additionally, file-sharing sites are spreading the documents as well. If you can’t stop the recent cam of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from spreading like wildfire, how can you stop this? It’s a practice in futility, makes Assange into a martyr, and steels the resolve of people who believe this stuff should be made available. In this day and age, once information is out, it’s out.

Worse, there’s the reaction against Americans reading the WikiLeaks documents. Federal workers and contractors, including all members of the military, have been warned that they must not view the documents. Even college students have been given notice that the documents are off-limits to them as well, and could kill their career prospects–especially if they demonstrate that they have viewed the cables through their posts on social networking sites. Government contractors, trying to stay in line with this campaign, are blocking any URL with “WikiLeaks” in the address, like they’re the Chinese government trying to keep foreign influences away from its people.

This also is nonsensical. Not just because the information is out there, and not just because it would be near-impossible to monitor home usage (or would it?)–instead, it is bizarre because everyone else in the world knows this data, and has access to it. All they’re doing is trying to keep Americans from knowing what their government is doing–which is supposedly the reverse of what such secrecy is usually about, namely keeping the information out of foreign hands. It’s like it was back in the Cold War, when information was already well-known by the Soviets, but the U.S. government kept it classified from its own people. It didn’t make any sense back then, and it makes no more sense now.

All that is being accomplished is that the U.S. government is coming across to its citizens and the world at large as being both inept and oppressive. Were it to simply now treat the information as being “out there”–which it undeniably is–and focus solely on investigating the origin of the leak and the prosecution of those who released it, then they would at least come across as reasonable and responsible in their reaction to the event.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, Security Tags:

Isn’t It Rather Obvious By Now?

January 3rd, 2010 2 comments

In the fallout from the failed crotch-bomb plot over Detroit, many have pointed out the fact that right-wingers have been particularly dishonest and hypocritical. Conservatives have been putting outright blame on Obama for the failure to catch this beforehand, whereas they blamed Clinton for the 9/11 attacks, not Bush; where Obama is to blame for an intelligence agency ignoring the father’s warning, Bush was somehow not to blame for ignoring a plethora of warning signs, several of which were delivered directly to him. Where Bush was hailed as “keeping us safe” even while the Shoe Bomber, in almost identical a fashion to the Crotch Bomber, attempted to blow up a plane to the U.S., Obama is criticized for not keeping us safe. And while Republicans excoriate the Obama administration for the lack of security, they brazenly ignore the fact that they themselves voted down more funding for airport security. Not to mention the fact that criticizing Bush on terror or security was seen as near-treasonous, while criticizing the president today is apparently not at all a problem.

I look at these criticisms and reflect on why I don’t blog on politics quite as much now: it’s all trite. Of course they’re acting like that. Of course the facts don’t matter one bit. Of course Republicans are being hypocritical, lying bags of scum; hasn’t that been all too well established? Just like it’s been established that Democratic politicians are generally weak-kneed sissies afraid of their own shadows.

The pattern is pretty simple: anything a conservative does: good; anything a liberal does: bad–even if the two acts are identical. Just claim they’re different somehow, ignore logic and consistency, blame any evidence to the contrary as an artifact of the “Liberal Media,” and there you have it. The neoconservative narrative. Throw in some social religion for further control, a few more tax cuts for the rich, disregard a few more civil liberties (while always steering clear of the control-irrelevant gun ownership), deepen the dependence on corporations, and you’re getting close to seeing the overall sheep-herding architecture of the New Conservative Society. Within that twisted framework, even Sarah Palin makes perfect sense.

No Faith in America

November 15th, 2009 5 comments

It’s amazing that those on the right, who claim to have a deep love for America and its Constitution, so readily and even eagerly abandon both at the drop of a hat. A Democrat elected president? Let’s throw a four- to eight-year shit-fit and threaten to secede. Terrorism threatens? Shred the Bill of Rights and welcome a police state.

Now that the Obama administration has brought the 9/11 suspects to trial, right-wingers are gnashing their teeth, overwrought that the Constitutional criminal justice system won’t work. They are frantic about the possibility that the bad guys might all get set free on a technicality, and are fully opposed to open trials in the court system. I suppose it stems from their self-fulfilling sense of government fallibility, or their long-held belief that a pansy liberal justice system is incapable of actually punishing criminals (bitterly ironic in a country with a sky-high incarceration rate).

It’s hard to figure out if conservatives are either just simply fundamentally unpatriotic, or are sniveling cowards with an infantile mentality, or both.

The truth is, the defendants will all be found guilty, and punished to the greatest extent of the law. I don’t know if the conservatives have noticed or not, but in high-profile cases like this, defendants rarely, if ever, get off on technicalities. (And no, O.J. wasn’t at this level, despite the media attention.)

Though I can see why the right-wingers might think this–look at Oliver North and Scooter Libby. Conservative criminals have been getting off scot-free on technicalities and government corruption for years. That might be why they have so little faith that the system will convict people.

But the 9/11 criminals don’t have a deal with Congress for immunity, or a sympathetic president in their corner to grant them clemency. And there is no possibility that a judge will be weak on this one, or that a jury will nullify anything.

If there is anything that could get them off, it’s the fact that the Bush administration, and conservatives in general, while in control, did their damnedest to break every law, betray every principle, and violate every ethic they could find when it came to national security. And that, I think, is at the heart of it all: they expect that their crimes will come back to haunt them, that what they know they did wrong will work against the interests of the American people, and they want to make sure that if that happens, the liberals are blamed for it.

But frankly, I don’t think that even that will get the criminals off this time. No judge will dare let them free, no jury will dare find them innocent. When it comes to something like this, justice has a firm thumb on the scales.

Categories: Republican Stupidity, Security Tags:

Like Father, Like Son

September 20th, 2009 1 comment

This is lovely:

US officials told me in April 2008 that President Bush had been warned by his military commanders that Afghanistan was going from bad to worse. More troops and money were needed; reconstruction was at a standstill; pressure had to be put on Pakistan; the elections in April 2009 should be indefinitely postponed. Bush ignored all the advice except for asking the Afghans to postpone the elections until August.

He left everything else to his successor to sort out.

The elder Bush did something in a slightly similar vein: in December 1992, a month after losing the election to Bill Clinton, he ordered U.S. troops into Somalia. Called “Operation Restore Hope,” it was more likely a partisan political play. Bush had, for example, completely ignored the conflicts in the Balkans, as well as many other humanitarian and political crises around the globe during his four years in office. That he should happen to suddenly become interested in solving such issues by inserting U.S. troops into a hopeless quagmire just six weeks before leaving office is more than just coincidence. Clinton was left with a no-win scenario: either leave the country in a huge mess or stay and get stuck in the quagmire. In either case, Republicans would be perfectly positioned to attack him on his “failed” foreign policy, which, of course, is exactly what they did.

What Bush Jr. did this time is somewhat different, but no less reprehensible, and echoed the actions of his father in an important respect. While the senior Bush likely intentionally created a mess for a political opponent to clean up, Bush Jr. most likely just didn’t want to deal with his failures–but the effect was the same. Both Clinton and Obama were left in quagmires at the start of their presidencies, quagmires that a president named “Bush” got us into.

What makes the Bush Jr. quagmire all the more deplorable is that it was not entered six weeks before the handover of power, but more than seven years before. That Obama is now having to resuscitate the conflict and essentially start all over again is the main tragedy. By using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq, his real military goal, Bush allowed Afghanistan to deteriorate for all that time.

Bush’s abject failure cost the lives of thousands of troops and trillions of dollars, as well as the respect and sympathy of most of the world. It destabilized the region, provoked Iran into nuclear belligerence, and created a situation that was inherently so fragile that our leaving would likely lead to devastation.

What should have happened is that we should have gone into Afghanistan and only there; we should have ousted the Taliban and nothing else. It was not and is not our place to decide the type of government there would be, but rather only that they did not harbor terrorists or otherwise threaten us. And then leave.

Had he done that, we could have left the region years ago. Yes, Saddam Hussein would still have been in power–and ironically, fewer Iraqis would have been tortured and killed, and Iraq would be in better shape than it is today. That is not praise for Hussein, it is a condemnation of the supreme clusterfrack that Bush committed there.

Instead, Obama now begins his term in office having to deal with a military which is severely strained and depleted (unlike the military Bush got from Clinton, which he claimed was depleted but was not), and take a seven-year-old conflict and somehow find a way to make it manageable enough for us to leave. One can only guess that Obama will not wind up leaving it or any other conflict as a quagmire for his successor to clean up. Clinton didn’t. Both Bushes did. Let’s hope that’s not a pattern that will continue.

Categories: Military, Security Tags:

No Drama

September 15th, 2009 Comments off

TPM reports on how government should work: when law enforcement raids a suspected terrorist threat, they keep it quiet, waiting until they know what’s going on to release any details. Reasonable from many standpoints, including the all-important security perspective.

This was not the case under Bush. Every arrest, no matter how stupid and harmless the perps, was heralded by a huge media blitz and paraded by the administration as a security coup for political reasons, a few times even at the expense of actual security. It sometimes took only a few days to realize that they had arrested complete losers and bozos, or that the plot was unworkable or futile, but by then the public had been appropriately frightened into supporting more of Bush’s policies, and the media was less interested in detailing how the “terrorists” were nothing of the sort.

Funny how that hasn’t happened even once in the past eight months. Wonder what changed.

Categories: Security Tags:

Moving Into Dangerous Territory

August 18th, 2009 2 comments

Claiming that they are only “using their rights” as Americans, about a dozen men–at least one carrying a military-style assault rifle–populated the crowds outside the Obama event in Phoenix today. As I remarked before, the one guy outside the event last week went far too far, so a dozen should be that many times more chilling. What seems to have tempered the display is that none, at least as far as I can tell, were bearing signs that intimated that they wanted to actually kill Obama, as was the case with the armed protester in Montana. Nevertheless, the display was chilling.

The protesters simply contend that they were exercising their rights; Arizona, where the event was held, is an “open carry” state, where you can carry a gun in public so long as it is out in the open. If these gun advocates are worried that Obama is going to take away their gun rights (which they really have no reason to be, as Obama has not only made his stance on this clear, but has actually loosened some gun laws), then one might understand a display. However, there is a difference between a display and a threat. If the men had shown up, displayed their weapons for some cameras, made a statement, and then packed away the guns–in other words, made the point about bringing guns and then demonstrated that they meant no ill will–that would be a display.

However, when a president travels, assassination is always a primary concern. To simply have men bearing guns, including assault rifles, milling about crowds of protesters making rather outlandishly hostile rants about the president, some signs even advocating his death, goes beyond simple protest and enters the realm of real security issues. Most surprising to me is the apparently lax attitude the Secret Service is taking to all this.

There is also the question of right in context. One has the right to free speech, but you cannot endanger others; I can shout “Fire!” at a gun range, but not in a movie theater. Depending on the context, one is perfectly appropriate, the other is criminally irresponsible. In the context of a presidential visit, bearing a gun is, in my opinion at least, criminally irresponsible. Bearing a gun is a right, freely speaking is a right, but bearing a gun while making death threats? I don’t think that’s a right. And bearing a gun to a political event definitely strays into that territory: there is a very real, implied threat being made.

Besides, if the real idea here is just exercising rights, then where were these people during the Bush administration? People were getting arrested for shouting non-violent anti-Bush slogans or even just wearing critical T-shirts near Bush events; had anyone then shown up with a gun, they probably would have been arrested on the spot. No one seemed to want to test their gun rights then, did they?

Add that to the fact that Obama has only been friendly to relaxing gun laws and you get the clear impression that the whole “gun rights” claim is not a reason, but an excuse to make thinly veiled death threats against the president of the United States of America. There is a difference between exercising your rights and hiding behind them.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism, Security Tags: