Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shooting off one's...

So the Right has spoken: "Gun control is not only not the answer, it's the anti-answer - more guns at school!" Gun Owners of America spokesman on NPR yesterday: "If students or teachers were allowed to carry weapons on school campuses, the tragedy at Virginia Tech could have ended much sooner."

So, I'm a cop, trying to make my way into the school, and the only report I've had so far is that there is a person with a handgun, walking around campus, shooting people. I see someone with a handgun. I shout, "POLICE! FREEZE!" That person turns to look at me, and I fire. They had a gun. They just weren't the shooter. The killings continue, and I've just shot an innocent bystander.

My other favorite scenario: I'm the only student in a particular classroom with a gun, I walk out into the hallway to see if I can at least clip the shooter, slow him/her down. There are four other students in the hallway, all packing guns. Which one do I shoot? Why wouldn't one of them shoot me? And of course, I won't hesitate, as I'm a fully trained firearms expert, not just a kid with a pistol...

Another brilliant concept: "Where were the heroes? Couldn't someone have tackled this guy early on and stopped him?" Of course, I'm sure the writers of these little screeds would be right up there, launching themselves on a guy carrying two semi-auto pistols with different reloading periods. Or would they. like the other prudent folks in that college, be barricading themselves behind a door, cowering under desks, playing dead, anything not to get shot.

One topic covered by many but misunderstood by most, was that the shooter was using one fairly lethal gun and one less lethal, i.e. the 9mm Glock was somehow more deadly than the .22 caliber Walther. As any forensic pathologist will tell you, yes, the big bullet makes a larger hole, but the little bullet will often take the scenic route, coming in at, say, your hip, and possibly exiting somewhere near your shoulder, bouncing off every bone in between. In most cases, the cops are at least as afraid of a 22, because while a vest will definitely stop a straight shot from a 9mm pistol, a 22 can sneak in under the waistband and still manage to hit your heart.

What to do? Well, after all the blamethrowers have been fired and everyone has gotten the lawsuits off their chests, we can look forward to more waffling by politicians about any kind of background checks or any sort of gun-sale records-keeping. Our former Attorney General, John Ashcroft, made it a policy to erase gun-purchase records after 24 hours, rather than the usual 90 days. This of course, would have prevented anyone from knowing how and where John Allen Muhammed (the DC sniper - remember him?) purchased his illegal firearms. Cho Seung-Hui had been sent to a psychiatric facility and was on suicide watch, yet still managed to get past a background check to purchase two firearms.

As Bowling For Columbine showed, gun ownership does not necessarily equal murder. Canada has more guns per capita than the United States, and yet Toronto, one of their largest cities, only had 61 homicides in 2004, 32 by handgun. Baltimore, Maryland had 269 homicides that year, more than two-thirds by handgun. The Virginia Tech shootings equaled one year's worth of handgun murders in a Canadian city with a population of approximately 3 million.

I agree with Michael Moore's assessment of American culture, and the news in general: we are living in fear of each other. We are specifically afraid of the others in our midst: whites if you're black, blacks if you're white, etc., etc. We resent those who've done better than we have, and we resent those who are "parasites" on society, the indigent. We blame the victim for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Interestingly, a University in Sweden recently concluded a study that proved that suicides go up in England when the Conservatives are in charge of the government. They reasoned that if Labor had been in power, more than 35,000 people would not have killed themselves. I wonder if anyone has looked at the statistics in America about the economy versus crime, a truly deep study of all the numbers and all the available jobs, and the crime that results from market downturns, layoffs, etc. Or better still, how does the populace deal with an economy that appears to be doing well, when most people believe they're barely making it?

In the case of Virginia Tech, it appears that the shooter had some deep-seated psychological issues. His writings, which are as disturbing as any movie written by Andrew Kevin Walker, appear to be written by someone with a very limited command of the English language. One wonders how he managed to get into college with such poor skills. There are hints of child molestation, murder by hammer and chainsaw, molestation by teachers at school, by step-parents, etc. Many people seemed to think that he was a potential school shooter before he became one. Much more yet to be discovered, I'm sure...

Meanwhile, we can thank our lucky stars that it didn't happen here.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Self-destruction via e-mail/Bad fake soldier, no armor

The longer they operate, the further they get from the truth or reality.

The attorney firings and misplaced e-mail

Background: Clinton was lambasted because his staff were using White House computers for campaign purposes. This was considered a violation of the Hatch Act (passed in the 30s), which prohibits using Federal funds and equipment for anything other than Federal business. So the Republican National Committee fixed the problem by issuing laptops to political operatives working as staffers in the White House. This way they could use the RNCs laptops to do political work from the same office they're doing their actual work.

How not to violate the Hatch Act, as thought up by Republicans. "Clinton did it!" Not like this he didn't.

Now the fun begins. These political operatives include people like Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzales' staff, etc. So, while they're supposed to be governing, what they're really worried about is whether or not they're going to get elected. Again.

How many Federal work hours were spent writing e-mails about campaign strategies?

And were these laptops used to communicate outside of the standard channels, so no one would know what was being talked about?

I mean, why not use an anonymous system when what you're doing would otherwise be possibly put on public display, and perhaps give someone grounds for legal action against you? Like, oh, impeachment?

Giving the word mercenary a bad name

Al Franken (a massive ego, but funny when he gets it right) has a theory about all of this: the current Republican party believes that government is bad in pretty much all of its forms. So they get elected, and do a really terrible job of it, thus proving that government is bad.

But the way they've done this is to privately contract out many things that the government should be doing. Private enterprise only thinks about making money, and government is only concerned about not spending too much money, and currently they're even ignoring that particular pose. If the Dems can lower spending, and raise taxes at the same time, we might find ourselves living in the land of fiscal responsibility, but it's gonna take a while. Meanwhile, we've privately contracted out Veteran's health care, construction projects the Army Corps of Engineers should be doing, the rebuilding of Iraq, tracking the expenses of rebuilding Iraq (to a one-person firm with no previous experience of this sort of work - neat-o), and even military work. No, not cooking and s**t-burning and all that - soldiering!

Yes, we have approximately the same number of mercenary fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan as we do actual American soldiers. The company's name is Blackwater. They make maybe $350 a day, and we are billed for $950/day. Meanwhile, our soldiers pull down about half what the contractors are paid, and are usually in much more hazardous duty. Except, of course, that Blackwater is trying to fight this on the cheap (more profit that way), and so their soldiers go out sometimes even less well-protected than ours. And ours are chronically short on body armor, on vehicle armor, even on bullets.

Can anyone tell me when a private enterprise has done a better job of a huuuuuuuuge project? Imagine if the internet had been begun by Comcast.

No more interventions, until the next one...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Running in the direction of away

I have to wonder what these guys are going to do after "public" service.

Bush will go back to running oil companies that drill dry wells and make negative money (but he's the ex-Pres, so there's a certain cachet in having him make bad decisions while waiting for the Saudis to bail out the company). Cheney will probably go back into the "government contracting" industry, since I doubt Halliburton will re-hire him. Or will they?

Almost everyone in the Bush administration has gone on to something a little more lucrative.

Tommy Thompson, ex-Secretary of Health and Human Services, has gone onto a profitable career in the medical industry. Fancy that - he regulated it, then he gets to work for it! Perhaps he did a few deals for his friends before he left? He's of course lobbying for firms that he formerly regulated, and I'm sure, doing it out of the goodness of his heart.
John Ashcroft, ex-Attorney General, is now one of the most powerful Repugnican lobbyists on K Street. Most famous for his singing voice, covering up naked statues, leading a prayer group every day, and being anointed with some form of oil on his assumption of the AG post.
Donald Evans, ex-Secretary of Commerce, is currently scouting out a location for the George W Bush Presidential Library, and not finding any takers. Possibly because much of what will be included in the library may be fiction (no, really - they're looking for writers who will "flesh out" the soon-to-be-ex-president's term with buffed-out versions of what actually happened - just what you want as a permanent record of a presidency - fiction).
Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor, made a name for herself in the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think-tank that doesn't approve of organized labor, which is what the Secretary of Labor is supposed to regulate.
Mel Martinez was the Secretary of HUD. He is now the junior Senator from Florida, and won by smearing his primary opponent as being a "friend of homosexuals" for supporting hate-crimes legislation. There was also some question as to who actually won the final election. Florida is still having issues with voter-rolls scrubbing and denying the franchise to some citizens.
Gale Norton, ex-Secretary of the Interior, was a lobbyist for National Lead Industries. Also known to have unfortunately close ties to Jack Abramoff, a now-convicted felon, formerly a lobbyist on behalf of various Indian Tribes and their casinos, something else the Secretary of the Interior has say over.
Robert Zoellick, ex-Undersecretary of State and a US Trade Representative, is now working for Goldman Sachs, fairly soon after Goldman's ex-CEO Hank Paulson was hired by the Bush administration to be Treasury Secretary. While he did some laudable things (like trying to make the world more aware of Darfur, though not doing much about the situation), mostly he was very much a corporate free-trader, knocking down regulations between countries and weakening labor rules in other countries to forward US interests.
Tom Ridge, ex-Homeland Security chief, is on the board of Home Depot and Savi Technologies, neither of which had anything to do with government anything, as far as I know. He is also (inexplicably) an adviser to the government of Albania. Most famous for the color-coded alert system, which moved up and down the scale depending on who was having trouble getting elected.
Then there's those recess appointments, where the Shrub can appoint people who weren't approved by Congress, as long as the Congress is not in session. This last Easter, he appointed three - Sam Fox, a Swift boat supporter, as Ambassador to Belgium; Susan Dudley, a woman who believes that markets can dictate all the regulation anyone needs (over things like arsenic in drinking water, for example), to head the department that oversees regulations on business and things like, oh, arsenic in drinking water; last but not least, Andrew Biggs, former Cato Institute think-tanker, to Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration - which he wants to privatize.
Most famously, the appointment of John Bolton to the post of UN Ambassador. Bolton was so infamous for his hatred of the UN, there was no way in hell he was going to get past even a friendly Repugnican congress. So Bush waited for summer recess, and appointed him anyway. Once his confirmation hearings came up, he voluntarily resigned.

Somalia, 1993 - Boutros Boutros-Ghali (head of the UN at the time) was seen by the majority of the Somali population as a friend to the formerly popular dictator Siad Barre. After a nationalization program to bring Somalia into the 20th century, Barre began trying to bring more and more Somali territory in by invading other countries that had large Somali populations. This included Kenya and Ethiopia. Various clans began fighting Barre's government, as he was seen as responsible for alienating the only international support Somalia had had, the Soviet Union. Barre was ultimately deposed by the Habr Gidr clan, led by Mohammad Farah Aidid. The clans began fighting amongst each other.
To put it nicely, things were not going well in Somalia. Drought, famine, warfare. Hundreds of thousands dead. A meeting was called amongst the warlords, and many sent representatives. During the meeting, in which the discussion turned on "How do we move our country forward?", American helicopters flew by and shot a bunch of missiles into the second floor of the building where the meeting was taking place. Many of the possible reformers of Somalia were killed, and their relatives vowed vengeance.

The UN came in and did their humanitarian thing, bringing in tons and tons of food. Aidid controlled the food supply, and with it, tried to control the country. The UN sent in various peacekeepers in an attempt to get the food to as many people as possible, but it didn't work very well. The UN was still seen as a negative influence in the country. 24 Pakistani soldiers in UN uniforms were killed by Aidid's militia. The US said "enough" and dropped in a few hundred Army Rangers and a few dozen Delta guys. We kept trying to capture Aidid or his lieutenants, and every now and then we got someone important.

The Somalis had learned how to shoot down Black Hawk helicopters from Osama Bin Laden - set up your rocket-propelled grenades with proximity fuses. As soon as it gets close to the tail rotor, BOOM, and the helicopter can't stay airborne. They shot down two of ours on one of these raids, and the Battle of Mogadishu began.

In Mark Bowden's excellent book, "Black Hawk Down", the military engagement is portrayed as an incredibly one-sided battle. The US is seen as concerned about their wounded and dead ("leave no one behind" is a commendable, but often dangerous, US Armed Forces dictum), and the Somalis seem completely unconcerned by their own potential deaths. Many in the politically correct world lambasted the movie as portraying the Somalis as crazed, bug-eyed fighters, the unstoppable primitive. If you read Bowden's book, that is how they looked to the Americans fighting there. Aidid's fighters were generally hopped-up on a drug called khat, a pretty powerful stimulant. They would throw themselves in screaming waves at moderately fortified positions, or (smarter) already had themselves nice fortified positions up in the buildings. In many ways, the fighting in Somalia was a prelude to fighting in Iraq - urban desert warfare in concrete buildings.

While any loss in warfare is tragic, our losses were nothing compared to the Somali's. I believe we ended the battle with about a hundred guys dead. The Somalis lost about 4,000. Congress withdrew funding for military action in Somalia when they heard about the Battle of Mogadishu, which was seen as a disaster. What others saw was that if we were engaged and started losing men, we'd turn tail and run.

Not that I'm suggesting we should have stayed to get shot at. We might have had better success had we had armor and better air cover, but I'm no military strategist.

The other problem was cultural. Which is where we usually miss the point. If you ask the average Somali, "do you want peace?" the response is fairly predictable: "Why, of course I do!" Then you ask, "but what if Aidid is running things?"

"That BASTARD?!?" NEVER..."

So there's this little disconnect - peace is a good thing, so long as it's my guys running the show. Anyone else, and it's war war war.