• It’s the Guns, but It isn’t Just the Guns

    May 28, 2014 // 22 Comments »




    The killings in Isla Vista by one misogynist thug represent a terrible loss of life, most killed with a gun. Of course people can die so many ways, and the Isla Vista murderer managed to stab three people to death and run one down with his car. Still, the focus is and should be on the quickest, easiest way and thus most dangerous way to kill a lot of people: guns.

    Joe the Plumber

    Enter Joe the Plumber. You remember Joe, right? He was a pathetic, semi-employed, non-union plumber from Ohio that pathetic Republican candidate for president John McCain plucked out of a pathetic crowd in 2008 and tried to make a pathetic campaign meme out of. Working man, pull up by his bootstraps, that old garbage. Joe (which isn’t even his real name) had a few minutes of faux-fame alongside the other sideshow to that freakish campaign, Sarah Palin, and both more or less crawled back into the mud from whence they came. Or should have.

    For reasons quite unclear, people still feed and diaper Joe the Plumber, interview him, and perhaps even listen to him. And for a reporter desperate for some new angle on America’s latest mass murder, what better to do than look up ol’ Joe for a comment. Here’s what Joe said:

    I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: [sic] As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights. But the words and images blaming “the proliferation of guns”, lobbyists, politicians, etc.; will be exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left.

    I cannot begin to imagine the pain you are going through, having had your child taken away from you. However, any feelings you have toward my rights being taken away from me, lose those.


    Second Amendment

    Leaving aside the simple insensitivity of speaking that way to grieving parents whose kids were just murdered by a loon allowed to own multiple handguns and carry 400 rounds of ammunition in his car, my hat’s off to Joe for turning a tragedy around and making it all about him. Classy.

    In addition, though Joe likely don’t read no much no more, the Second Amendment is about the only part of our Bill of Rights that hasn’t been gutted post-9/11. Right to privacy? Ask the NSA. Freedom of speech? Check with jailed Occupy people. Right to a fair trial? How’s that going Chelsea Manning? Nope, nobody is grabbing any guns Joe. Repeat after me: It. Is. All. In. Your. Head. Now stop mixing oxy and vodka shots, ‘Kay?

    What Joe missed was the chance to decry how “nothing could have been done about this.” Yeah, sure, the cops checked the shooter out ahead of time, but, well, they didn’t search his house or look at his social media as if he were, you know, a brown Muslim. And those reports about him being mentally ill. Well, sir, that’s no crime either.

    What could have been done? How can we as a nation reconcile this terrible tragedy with what Joe the Plumber had to say?

    America as No. 1

    To start, it is sadly clear America has a lot of mass shootings. 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States. In second place is Finland, with two entries. Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country. It seems to be getting worse: there have been at least 21 during the last six years. School shootings seem an American speciality. The number of such incidents in the U.S. was only one less than in the next highest 36 countries combined. Americans die from violence in general, and gun violence in the specific, at higher rates than pretty much anywhere outside of actual war zones.

    It’s the Guns, but It isn’t Just the Guns

    There are many other countries where guns are abundant. There are also examples of mass murders by the mentally ill around the world. But it seems that the two only collide with, well, such violence, in the United States. For Joe the Plumber, Joe, relax. No one is going to take your guns away. Americans will continue to be able to purchase whatever kinds of firearms they wish, in any quantity, and with any amount and type of ammunition. The nation barely even throws gun control lip service any more, even after (another) mass shooting.

    The Second Amendment long ago swerved so far from the Founder’s intent, “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” that it no longer seems to exist within today’s context of the Bill of Rights. The confluence of huge corporate interests represented by the NRA, carpetbagging politicians owned by the NRA and frightened people protecting their own fears ensures this amendment alone will forever stand untouched. The guns are not going away.

    So that leaves us. Why are we so violent? Why, after a workplace slight or a turn-down by a woman, is the go-to move for too many Americans to pick up a gun and slaughter unrelated and innocent people? I hate to end this way, but I don’t know why. I want some sort of gun control, but I know while it is necessary, it won’t be sufficient. I wish I knew why. I wish I knew.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy

    Where was the NSA before the Isla Vista Mass Shooting?

    May 27, 2014 // 23 Comments »



    Elliot Rodger, a college student who posted videos that documented his rage against women, killed six people and wounded 13 others last week. He stabbed three men to death in his apartment and shot the others as he opened fire on bystanders on the crowded streets of Isla Vista, California. Rodger then killed himself. Three semi automatic handguns, along with 41 loaded ten-round magazines— all bought at local gun stores— were found in his car. There could have been many more dead.

    So where was the NSA?

    For the year since Edward Snowden revealed in detail the comprehensive spying on every aspect of American lives, we have been assured by the president and the NSA that every single one of those intrusions into our life was necessary to protect us. The now-former NSA chief said he knows of no better way his agency can help protect the U.S. than with spy programs that collect billions of phone and Internet records. “How do we connect the dots?” he said, referring to often-hidden links between people, events and what they do online. “There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. Taking these programs off the table is absolutely not the thing to do.”

    So where was the NSA?

    Elliot Rodger posted on his social media, presumably monitored by the NSA, about suicide and killing people. His family asked police to visit Rodger’s residence. But when they showed up, Rodger simply told deputies it was a misunderstanding and that he was not going to hurt anyone or himself. No search was conducted.

    Barely 24 hours before the killing spree, Rodger posted a video on YouTube, presumably monitored by the NSA, in which he sat behind the steering wheel of his black BMW and for seven minutes announced his plans for violence. The video has been leaked– see it here.

    So where was the NSA in Boston?

    In the case of the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the NSA failed to notice the Boston bomber’s visits to al Qaeda’s online magazine or his “terrorist” YouTube videos. The online magazine gave Tsarnaev the details he needed to build his bombs. The NSA also failed to note the online communications Tsarnaev had with a known extremist in Dagestan, who reportedly listed Tsarnaev among his cyber friends.

    Even after the bombing, the NSA, Justice Department, and Homeland Security failed to identify the suspects from close-up pictures, and had to ask the public for help, even though photos of both brothers were scattered across social media, presumably monitored by the NSA.

    What was law enforcement doing in Boston in the time period leading up to the bombings? Monitoring Occupy and others, including tracking the Facebook pages and websites of protesters and writing reports on the potential impact on “commercial and financial sector assets” in downtown areas.

    The monitoring of legitimate protest groups was not limited to Boston. The FBI monitored Occupy Wall Street from its earliest days and treated the nonviolent movement as a potential terrorist threat. Internal government records show Occupy was treated as a potential threat when organizing first began in August of 2011. Counterterrorism agents were used to track Occupy activities.

    So where is the NSA?

    All of the failures of the NSA cited above are exactly the kind of connect-the-dots fails that spying on all Americans were supposed to alleviate. At this point we’re left with one of two explanations.

    The first explanation is that the NSA is simply incompetent. They may not be very good at their job, their technological ability to collect may not be matched with an ability to process the data, or they are simply so flooded with data as to be ineffective. Why should we expect a government that stumbles on everything from managing appointment lists at veteran’s hospitals to major foreign policy endeavors to do any better at intelligence work.

    The second explanation is much darker. It remains possible the business about connecting dots and protecting America is a ruse, a sham, a cover story, and that mass surveillance has a much more sinister purpose. Pick one: control dissent, spy on groups like Occupy, blackmail, political advantage, industrial intel, and so forth. Snowden’s revelations, as significant as they are, really only shed light on what the NSA does. They do not address why the NSA spies on us. Therein lies the real story of the century, waiting for the next whistleblower to expose.


    BONUS

    Some commentators on the Isla Vista mass killing have decried the problem of “What could have been done? Sure he posted some crazy stuff, but he didn’t really commit a crime before he started shooting, right?”

    Interesting argument, until you compare it to how the government deals with “real terrorists.” The magic words used are “conspiracy to commit terrorism,” a crime that basically involves talking about or planning to do something awful. The same law exists in regards to planning to commit a garden-variety murder. The logic is that if the police have clear evidence that you are about to blow up a skyscraper, it makes no sense that they have to wait until you trigger the dynamite to arrest you. Fair enough.

    But let’s look at a few examples in practice.

    In North Carolina recently, the FBI charged two men they say conspired and trained to exact “violent jihad.” The federal investigation began when one man contacted an undercover FBI source by email and told him he wanted to go overseas and fight, and he asked another how he should prepare to fight in Yemen or Syria. The other guy frequently “spoke about his weapons,” and said he was “considering” violent acts either in the United States or abroad. The men were arrested and charged with conspiracy.

    Three members of a Georgia militia were charged with conspiracy to attack federal agencies. They “attempted” to obtain pipe bombs and thermite devices, and chatted online about plans to attack the federal government.

    American citizen “Jihani Jane” was charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism based nearly completely on her online activities.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy