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Archive for the ‘USA: guns’ Category

[update below]

Dayton too. The latter one was a garden-variety American massacre, committed by an angry white male, who shot up a crowded place—that may or may not have been chosen at random—and with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle. If such weapons of war could be as easily procured in, say, France—where there are plenty of angry white males—as they are in the US, does anyone doubt that we would see a dramatic increase in massacres there (and of murder more generally)?

The El Paso massacre was different. As one knows, this one was racially motivated. It was an act of terrorism targeting a particular ethnic group—and a group that has been the target of racism, hatred, and dehumanization by the President of the United States since he announced his candidacy four long years ago. Trump has spoken of Mexicans and Central Americans in the same terms as the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe did of Tutsis in 1994 (as “cockroaches”) and Nazis did of Jews. Trump’s words are “poison,” as a commentary by a conservative pundit headlined today. Trump is poison. The El Paso Walmart terrorist was morally aided and abetted by Trump. Trump bears moral responsibility for the massacre. And one may be utterly certain that there will be more to come—possibly even more so once the unspeakable SOB is gone. On this, Paul Waldman has a chilling column in The Washington Post (August 5th) on “[h]ow Trump’s biggest broken promise will make white supremacist terrorism even worse.” The angry, heavily-armed white men out there will be even angrier when their man is no longer in the White House—and having failed to build his wall or rid the country of Muslims and others from “shithole countries.” A future President Warren-Biden-Harris-etc needs to start thinking now about how s/he will deal with an inevitable upsurge in domestic terrorism such as the United States has not witnessed in anyone’s lifetime.

On the antecedents of white American nationalist terrorism, historian Thomas Meaney has a must-read review essay in the August 1st London Review of Books, simply entitled “White Power,” in which he discusses two new books, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, by Kathleen Belew, and Revolutionaries for the Right: Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, by Kyle Burke. One learns in the essay that the armed white nationalist movement in its present form was born with the Cold War and America’s military interventions and other imperialist ventures over the decades, most notably the Vietnam War, and with veterans later freelancing as mercenaries to fight Soviet-backed insurgencies across the globe (one reads about the monthly magazine Soldier of Fortune, which I would periodically look at with morbid curiosity in the 1970s and ’80s). With the end of the Cold War, new generation white warriors acquired experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. In short, there are a lot of violent men out there in the American heartland—and no doubt in big blue cities too—who are racist, like to kill, and possess the heavy weapons to do so on a large scale. Again, El Paso is just the beginning.

Kathleen Belew, who teaches history at the University of Chicago, has an op-ed in The New York Times (August 4th), “The right way to understand white nationalist terrorism.” The lede: “Attacks like that in El Paso are not an end in themselves. They are a call to arms, toward something much more frightening.”

One may also profitably read Slate political editor Thomas Scocca’s commentary (August 4th), “Where taking the concerns of racists seriously has gotten us.”

UPDATE: Brian Beutler, the smart editor-in-chief of Crooked, has a smart comment (August 6th), “Members of the press, WTF indeed!,” in which he takes off from Beto O’Rourke’s impromptu reaction to a clueless journalist’s question. This passage in the piece is particularly noteworthy:

One recent incident that attracted relatively scant attention connects [Trump’s] racist incitement with his other nefarious activities: his unlawful intrusion in the war-crimes case of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who fatally stabbed a teenage ISIS fighter, posed with his corpse, then threatened to kill anyone who reported him. Trump helped secure Gallagher’s acquittal, then ordered the Navy to strip the prosecutors who tried him of the achievement medals they were awarded for doing their jobs well. The Gallagher case became a right wing cause célèbre, saturated with jingoism and Islamophobia, which is surely why Trump first took interest in it. But what purpose did he serve by punishing war-crimes prosecutors whose superiors determined they had acted appropriately? Why would the president want to communicate to certain favored, dangerous people that they have his permission to be violent, and that those who stand in their way will be scorned, abused, or purged? It is easier to look away than to connect the dots, because if the president has truly fascistic ambitions—if he has abused his power to recruit violent sympathizers in the military or civilian life with the lure of immunity—then conventional journalism lacks the language to say so.

Read the whole thing here.

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The Parkland massacre

Credit: NBC News

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

Another week, another school massacre in America. Okay, maybe there’s not one every week, but they occur with sufficient regularity that we’re not stunned anymore, or even surprised, when one happens. The only certainties are that there will be another school shooting somewhere in the U.S. of A.—and sooner rather than later—and that the Republicans in Congress will do nothing, no matter what, even if they were all regaled with the details of what it’s like to be riddled with bullets from an AR-15 or some other such semi-automatic rifle—and legally procured by someone who may perhaps be mentally ill but is more likely just an angry (white) male.

It’s nice to see a few conservatives, mainly Never Trumpers, denounce the Republicans and their NRA paymasters on the gun issue, though the response of the latter is more likely to be the one so described by Der Postillon, Germany’s answer to The Onion, in a faux dispatch (kindly translated on my Facebook page by Jeremiah Riemer):

US arms lobby calls for banning schools

Parkland, Fairfax (dpo) – There are already some initial repercussions following the most recent shooting rampage at a school in Florida with a toll of 17 dead. In order to avoid these kinds of unfortunate incidents, the US gun lobby NRA has called for a nationwide ban on schools.

“After a tragedy like the one in Parkland, there are always hysterical voices that want to regulate or even ban guns,” says NRA head Wayne LaPierre. “Yet, according to our surveys, it is not guns that are the main cause of school massacres, but schools.” (…)

“If we want to protect our children, then we need to close these terrible places and barricade ourselves at home, armed to the teeth,” according to LaPierre. “You’ll soon see: Once there are no more schools in the USA, the number of shooting rampages and mass murders at schools will quickly drop to zero.”

The NRA’s plan is expected to find numerous supporters in Washington — after all, schools and the subjects they teach such as evolution, global warming, human reproduction, and other socialist propaganda have long been a thorn in the side of Republicans.

Comme on dit en français: On rit. Jaune.

UPDATE: As expected, Adam Gopnik has an incisive commentary in The New Yorker, “Four truths about the Florida school shooting.”

2nd UPDATE: Senior editor at The Atlantic, Krishnadev Calamur, has a piece explaining that “The Swiss have liberal gun laws, too: But they also have fewer gun-related deaths than the U.S.” True that, as there are indeed more regulations in Switzerland regarding gun possession than in the US. The gun culture there and attitudes toward violence are also not the same.

It is almost a commonplace among Americans—and across the political spectrum—that America is a “violent” country. On one level, I find this notion absurd, or at least absurdly exaggerated, as individual Americans are no more prone to violence in their personal behavior than are Frenchmen, Italians, Turks, or anyone else. And American cities—a few neighborhoods apart in a few cities—are quite safe nowadays. One does not worry about violence, let alone see it, when walking the streets of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington, or wherever. But it is true that Americans collectively exalt the military and martial values—which is to say, the recourse to violence in dealing with adversaries or threats—in a way that other Western societies simply do not. There is a significant American exception here—and which is partly reflected in the attitude toward guns and the consequent shootings and massacres. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi zeros in on this in his latest piece (Feb. 16th), “If we want kids to stop killing, the adults have to stop, too: America’s rage-sickness trickles down from the top.” Tout à fait.

3rd UPDATE: A citizen blogger in rural Oregon named Anna has a post (Feb. 15th), provocatively entitled “Fuck you, I like guns,” in which she advances an argument that reasonable persons can hardly disagree with (h/t Lori Lippitz).

4th UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte has a good piece up in Rolling Stone, “4 pro-gun arguments we’re sick of hearing: Shootings in the U.S. are too often met with arguments for why we can’t do anything about gun control.”

Der Postillon, 15 Feb. 2018

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The Las Vegas massacre

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

There is nothing to say about it—after the ritualistic expressions of horror—except that (a) America will witness more such massacres—this is, as James Fallows asserts in The Atlantic, a certainty—and (b) nothing will be done about it, as former congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) writes in the NYT. Which is to say, Congress will do nothing, as it is controlled by the Republican Party, which is, so I wrote the other day, over the extreme right-wing edge on a whole range of issues, including that of guns. And the Republicans in Congress will do nothing despite the fact that, as we learn, the shooter Stephen Paddock had a veritable arsenal in his hotel room, of at least 23 rifles, all legally acquired expect maybe the automatic one. Insofar as the massacre happened because a private citizen was able to legally procure such an arsenal—as a consequence of the Republican Party refusing to make this legally difficult or impossible—then we may say that the Republican Party is ultimately responsible for what happened in Las Vegas on Sunday night. The Republican Party has blood on its hands. There, I said it.

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik invariably has the most incisive, powerful commentaries after such atrocities à l’américaine and does not disappoint with his one on this, “In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, there can be no truce with the Second Amendment.”

On this American exception, The Nation’s Joan Walsh says that “The American impulse to equate guns with freedom and masculinity with violence is killing us.”

Vox has several pieces on this uniquely American problem among developed countries, with two by Zack Beauchamp, one reminding us that “America doesn’t have more crime than other rich countries, it just has more guns“—and thus homicides, suicides, and massacres—and another on how “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns, [after which] murders and suicides plummeted.” German Lopez explains “Gun violence in America…in 17 maps and charts,” and Jennifer Williams correctly calls “White American men…a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners.”

On the iniquity of the Republicans and the NRA, see the report in Mother Jones on the “gun lobby’s quiet push [in Congress] to deregulate silencers.”

Just crazy.

UPDATE: New York magazine’s Eric Levitz informs us that “If only non–gun owners voted, Clinton would have won 48 states” in the 2016 election—and that if only gun-owners voted, Trump would have won with a 49 state blowout—demonstrating, not for the first time, that the cleavage over guns is the deepest in American politics.

Haaretz has posted the must-watch 5½ minute video of President Obama explaining, at a PBS town hall in June 2016, “why do mass shootings keep happening in the U.S.” Excellent. Boy, how we miss having such a smart, thoughtful, well-spoken president.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas Friedman nails it in his first post-Las Vegas column, “If only Stephen Paddock were a Muslim.”

3rd UPDATE: See Matt Taibbi’s latest, “The gun lobby is down to its last, unconvincing excuse.” Terrific.

4th UPDATE: Scientific American has an article in its October 2017 issue by science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer, “More guns do not stop more crimes, evidence shows.” The lede: “More firearms do not keep people safe, hard numbers show. Why do so many Americans believe the opposite?” This has long been obvious but it’s still good to have the hard data to back it up.

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Le Monde, 15-16 August 2017

It’s been two weeks since the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, which, with its aftermath, continues to occupy a sizable part of my social media news feeds. Last week was, to quote the NYT’s Frank Bruni, the worst in a cursed—or, rather, accursed—presidency and, echoing Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce, the bleakest moment for America in my lifetime. But, as Pierce reminds us, it’s not as if what has happened is a surprise to anyone who’s been following Trump over the past two years. As everyone with any personal connection to America has been riveted to Charlottesville and the fallout, I’m not going not to drone on with an extended commentary. Just a few random thoughts I’ve had since the thing began.

First, on the neo-Nazis. Many on this side of the pond, but also stateside, were stunned by the spectacle of the march, that such could even happen—and with one expat American friend expressing shock that Nazis were actually “a thing” back home. On the march being allowed to take place, this would clearly not happen in France, where Nazism is illegal, the law proscribing hate speech is regularly invoked sans état d’âme, and the state can ban a street demonstration if the Ministry of Interior (the tutelary authority of the national police) determines that it will disturb public order (i.e. cause a riot). Freedom of opinion and expression are inscribed in articles 10 and 11 of the hallowed 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen—which figures in the preamble of the constitution—but there are the bits about disturbing public order and abusing such freedoms—the parameters being set by administrative courts (and eventually the Constitutional Council)—that allow for the enactment of hate speech laws and outlawing extremist groups, which would be impossible in the US on account of the First Amendment. Personally speaking, I can understand and sympathize with the French attitude toward Nazis—the historical context requires no explanation and Nazi bans hardly make France a less free country than America—but remain a First Amendment purist nonetheless—though not an unqualified one. Defending the right of fascists to spew their venom does not obligate a city, university, or other public or private establishment to give them a venue to do so. If there is good cause to believe that a public procession of neo-Nazi goons will result in violence—and overstretch the ability of the police to deal with it—then a city (or university) should have the right to deny the Nazis or other extremist groups a permit to march or hold an event in a given space—and particularly at night and by torchlight, in view of what that symbolizes and obvious dangers involved (fire causing fires).

I’ve seen American Nazis on occasion over the years (the most memorable in Washington in 1975, when I perceived from a bus window two men in full Nazi uniform—with swastikas and all—tranquilly handing out leaflets on the corner of Connecticut & K, at 5:00 PM on a weekday; it is most unlikely they would dare do so today) and have come across its literature more often. However jarring this may be, the fact is, neo-Nazis in America are, in the larger scheme of things, irrelevant; they’re pathetic losers, angry white men who may be dangerous as individuals—in which case they become an affair for law enforcement—but, on their own, pose no political threat.

If Charlottesville were akin to Skokie 1977, I would say let the wankers have their march and ignore them. What made Charlottesville different from Skokie, however, was the Second Amendment (post-Heller). It was the weapons, of legally parading with (presumably loaded) semi-automatic rifles. This is insane. Paraphrasing the conservative Canadian-American David Frum writing in The Atlantic, in no other advanced democracy could a private militia armed with weapons of war even be legally constituted, let alone allowed to hold a public march and with those weapons, and, moreover, chant slogans that are manifest calls to violence and concretely threaten the physical integrity of persons observing the parade and chanting counter slogans back. As for the constitutionality of this, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern argued in Slate that there was a clear clash in Charlottesville between the First and (post-Heller) Second Amendments, and with the latter winning out. The First Amendment is necessarily undermined when those exercising it are confronted by a hostile paramilitary force of persons carrying machine guns and backed by open-carry and “stand-your-ground” laws. Those who argue that armed extremists enjoy a First Amendment right to hold a parade even in these circumstances—and wherever and whenever they feel like doing so—are dodging a fundamental issue here.

The counter-demonstrators could, of course, bring weapons themselves. Constitute their own militia. Great. If Americans want Lebanon or Somalia, then Lebanon or Somalia they will get. This, however, poses the question as to the equity, as it were, of the Second Amendment. Quoting David Frum from the aforelinked article

As David Graham has observed here at The Atlantic, the right to carry arms is America’s most unequally upheld right. Ohio is an open-carry state. Yet Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old, was shot dead in Cleveland within seconds of being observed carrying what proved to be a pellet gun. John Crawford was shot dead for moving around an Ohio Walmart with an air rifle he had picked up from a display shelf. Minnesota allows concealed-carry permit-holders to open carry if they wish—yet Minnesotan Philando Castile was killed after merely telling a police officer he had a legal gun in his car.

On the other hand, every white man who played vigilante in Charlottesville this weekend went home unharmed to his family, having successfully overawed the police—and having sent a chilling message of warning to lawful protesters.

One shudders to imagine what would happen if the neo-Nazis were to cross paths with, say, Black Lives Matter organized as a paramilitary force.

I mentioned Lebanon and Somalia. À propos, Robin Wright had a piece in The New Yorker last week that provoked much comment on social media, asking “Is America headed for a new kind of civil war?” Certain preconditions for civil war in the USA do indeed exist: the American political system is deeply polarized in a way it hasn’t been since, well, the Civil War, with one of the two parties of government extreme right-wing, populist, illiberal, and inimical to democracy—and is likely to remain so—and rejecting the legitimacy of the other party and its voters (the “moocher class,” Mitt Romney’s 47%…). If a Democratic Party candidate is elected president in 2020, does anyone honestly believe that the Republican Party base voters and media (Fox, Breitbart, AM talk radio, etc) will accept the election outcome and legitimacy of his or her presidency? Americans of the right and liberal/left do not see the world in the same way and, when it comes to politics—a subject hard to avoid—have nothing to say to one another. And N.B.: there is no symmetry here between the two sides of the political spectrum. The problem is exclusively on one. And that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future.

But there is not going to be a civil war in the US and for at least two reasons. First, only one of the sides is armed (and we know which side that is). If there is an armed conflict between Democratic and Republican Party base voters, it will be over quickly (and with many of my friends, associates, and relatives seeking political asylum in France, Canada and other civilized countries). Second, and more importantly, civil wars are waged over one of two things—control of the state or secession—and with the state and its armed force invariably actors in the conflict (though there are particular cases and exceptions, e.g. Lebanon 1975-90). If the American state is a party to a civil war, it will be to put down an insurrection, in which case the war will be over as soon as it starts. No militia is going to try to seize the American state (quelle idée!) and an eventual secession of some part of the country (Texas? California?) seems far-fetched, to put it mildly.

On Trump—on whom I have not had a post in almost six months—and his reaction to Charlottesville, New York-based writer Eyal Press had a good comment on his Facebook page

On second thought, Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, his refusal to condemn the bigotry and violence of a neo-Nazi mob, much less to utter the phrase “white supremacist terrorism,” is welcome. Just imagine if Trump had listened to some of his advisors and issued an insincere statement denouncing the violence and calling for unity. The pundits would have swooned, telling us, yet again, that he was now “Presidential,” that the dignity of the office he holds had been restored, even as his Justice Department continued to roll back minority rights and the likes of Bannon and Gorka walked the halls of the White House. For once, Trump did not dissemble. He showed the nation his true colors, revealing to his critics and supporters exactly who he is and where his sympathies lie.

Trump was Trump. I am not going to go on about him here or say anything I haven’t already said countless times, as his utter abjectness—politically and as a human being—and unfitness to be president of the United States is known—his lizard-brained fans excepted—to all. The American Prospect’s Adele M. Stan, in her latest column, thus expressed the sentiment of countless millions

There comes a point during the unfolding of a relentless, long-form catastrophe that one fears running out of adjectives to describe it. Watching President Donald J. Trump’s disgusting Tuesday night rally [in Phoenix], this writer finds the majesty of the English language failing her with means adequate to convey the depths of her disgust and dismay.

Haaretz’s US editor and correspondent Chemi Shalev, in writing about the sentiments of American Jews, also expressed those of tens of millions of non-Jewish Americans

Trump is different. His tenure could be a quantum leap, from strife to schism. Jewish liberals and doves may have detested George Bush and conservatives and right-wingers may have despised Barack Obama, but no U.S. president in the modern era has sparked such widespread fear and loathing in the American Jewish community as Trump. For many Jews, Trump is the worst thing that has happened to America in their lifetimes. Their fear, hostility and revulsion are so strong that they encompass not only Trump but anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness, which seems so obvious to his detractors. That includes Trump’s Jewish friends and supporters in the U.S. as well as the State of Israel, which has embraced him.

That’s right: “anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness”…

Just one thought. Since Charlottesville we have witnessed the already minimal acquiescence the Trump regime enjoyed among sectors of the American elite—notably corporate CEOs and the military—evaporate. A few hedge fund managers and media barons aside, Trump has been abandoned, if not outright repudiated, by the forces vives of American society. And this now includes the GOP congressional leadership. Even pro-Trump intellos—minuscule in number to begin with—and commentators on high-profile rightist websites are jumping ship. It is, needless to say, unprecedented for a president to be so thoroughly isolated—and only seven months into his term—for the elites of every sector of the economy, state, and society to consider unfit to hold office. It’s a dangerous situation, évidemment. Quoting Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone

Because of [Trump’s] total inability to concentrate or lead, he will likely never do anything meaningful with the real governmental power he possesses – if he had a tenth of the managerial skills of Hitler, we’d be in impossibly deep shit right now. But as an enabler of behavior, as a stoker of arguments and hardener of resentments, he has no equal. Under Trump, racists become more racist, the woke necessarily become more woke, and areas of compromise among all quickly dwindle and disappear. He has us arguing about things that weren’t even questions a few minutes ago, like, are Nazis bad?

Trump has shown, once again, that his power to bring out the worst in people is limitless. And we should know by now that he’s never finished, never beaten. Historically, he’s most dangerous when he’s at his lowest. And he’s never been lower than now.

Which raises the question that we’ve been rhetorically posing almost since January 20th, which is “how long can this go on?” That it could until January 20th 2021 is quite simply inconceivable.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction, which is that, sooner rather later, maybe before the end of the year, something will happen, Trump will say or do something, that will prompt the GOP congressional leadership—McConnell, Ryan et al—to decide to quickly impeach and convict him. Swiftly, inside a week. Get rid of the SOB and swear Pence into office. Boom, comme ça. The Republicans will bite the bullet and just do it. Their base will go ballistic but the leadership will deal with it and hope the storm passes—and in time for the 2018 midterms. Voilà.

Over the past two weeks people have been hearing and reading about the “antifa” movement—and which has become the right’s latest leftist bogeyman. The term “antifa” seemed to come out of nowhere. I first saw Americans (on the left) use it on Facebook threads last winter, when the Milo Yiannopoulos event at Berkeley was cancelled following the Black Bloc riot, though when I asked people where it came from, no one had a response. In fact, the first time I heard the word “antifa” was here in France some two years ago, on the hard right radio station Radio Courtoisie (which I occasionally listen to in my car; it’s not an uninteresting station and, in tone, bears no resemblance to AM talk radio in the US), and then from a couple of my right-wing French students, who uttered it in class. I have never seen or heard it used on the French left (or the mainstream media). So as far as I’m concerned—and until proof to the contrary—the term “antifa” is a French right-wing invention—so rightists don’t have to pronounce the full word “fascist” in a context in which the finger is pointed at them—and that has made its way outre-Atlantique (and been unwittingly adopted by the left).

David Remnick has a good commentary in the current issue of The New Yorker on “Donald Trump’s true allegiances,” in which he writes

“We’ve seen this coming,” [Barack Obama] said [last November]. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”

For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”

On the GOP and race, the NYT’s Charles M. Blow had a must-read column last week, “The other inconvenient truth: The Republican Party should acknowledge how it has fueled white supremacy.” Money quote

It is possible to trace this devil’s dance back to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the emergence of Richard Nixon. After the passage of the act, the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln to which black people felt considerable fealty, turned on those people and stabbed them in the back.

In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Charles Blow’s latest column, “Donald Trump, ‘King of Alabama’?,” is an absolute must-read, if one hasn’t already.

Novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen has a most interesting article in the September issue of The Atlantic, “How America lost its mind.” Entre autres, he offers an analysis of the evolution the Republican Party over the past five decades—leading in an almost straight line to Trump—that is similar to my own.

ICYMI, my dear friend Adam Shatz had an à chaud commentary on Charlottesville, “Trump set them free,” on the LRB blog.

On the Confederate statues issue, Columbia University history professor Eric Foner’s NYT op-ed, “Confederate statues and ‘our’ memory,” is excellent.

Likewise University of Chicago history professor Jane Dailey’s piece in Huffpost, “The Confederate general who was erased.”

Swarthmore College political science professor Richard Valelly, writing in The American Prospect, asks the excellent question, “How about erecting monuments to the heroes of Reconstruction?”

Roger Berkowitz—who is Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and Associate Professor of Politics, Human Rights, and Philosophy at Bard College—was interviewed last week by Deutsche Welle on “What philosopher Hannah Arendt would say about Donald Trump.”

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

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Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

No commentary on the latest killings—in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights MN, and Dallas. I’ve already said everything I have to say on the issue of guns in America (see the sidebar category ‘USA: guns’). One commentator who always has something to say on the subject—and who says it better than just about anyone—is The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, whose latest is entitled “The horrific, predictable result of a widely armed citizenry.” It begins

The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence. They were central fifty-plus years ago, when a troubled ex-Marine had only to send a coupon to a mail-order gun house in Chicago to get a military rifle with which to kill John F. Kennedy—that assassin-sniper also fired from a Dallas building onto a Dallas street. They are central now, when the increased fetishism of guns and carrying guns has made such horrors as last night’s not merely predictable but unsurprising. The one thing we can be sure of, after we have mourned the last massacre, is that there will be another. You wake up at three in the morning, check the news, and there it is.

We don’t yet know exactly by whom and for what deranged “reason” or mutant “cause” five police officers were murdered last night, but, as the President rightly suggested, we do know how—and the how is a huge part of what happened. By having a widely armed citizenry, we create a situation in which gun violence becomes a common occurrence, not the rarity it ought to be and is everywhere else in the civilized world. That this happened amid a general decline in violence throughout the Western world only serves to make the crisis more acute; America’s gun-violence problem remains the great and terrible outlier.

Continue reading it here.

Also in The New Yorker is a commentary by staff writer Evan Osnos, “The silence and the violence of the N.R.A.”

The NYT reports that the Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, “kept an arsenal in his home that included bomb-making materials.” Totally insane that it should be legal to do this, don’t you think?

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark P. McKenna—writer on the law and law professor, respectively—have a piece in Slate, “More guns, more fear, more killings:
It’s a vicious cycle, and there’s no end in sight.” Obviously. Why would it be otherwise?

Also in Slate is a piece by staff writer Leon Neyfakh, in which he asks “Are conservatives coming to terms with racism in American policing?” If so, that would be nice.

Alexandra Filindra, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had a post last month in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “How racial prejudice helps drive opposition to gun control.”

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The SIG MCX, a.k.a. the “Black Mamba.” That’s the assault weapon Omar Mateen used to commit his massacre. And which he, of course, purchased legally. Over the counter. As just about any person may in the state of Florida, as in much of the United States, even if he is a hate-spewing psychopath—as Mateen manifestly was—and/or has expressed an affinity with radical Islamist groups. To see what this rifle is about, watch the videos here. Anyone who can defend the freedom to acquire such weapons over the counter is not one with whom I can have any sort of dialogue. Repeating for the umpteenth time, what happened in Orlando is a uniquely American tragedy. Israeli journalist Anshei Pfeffer argued as much in the JDF, observing that though there are similarities between Islamic State-inspired or organized terrorist attacks in the US and those in Europe, these similarities end when it comes to the availability of weapons of war to civilians, which, he asserted

is inconceivable to outsiders. Not just the ease with which a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle can be bought over the counter, but the possibility of loading it with customized magazines holding 100 bullets, more than three times the number even armies use. The potential for bloodshed by one isolated and individual attacker is so much greater.

This availability of weapons enables isolated American Muslims with anger management problems—the Muslim population in America otherwise being well-to-do and thoroughly integrated—to express their rage in freelance bloodbaths such as the one yesterday in Orlando, whereas such is much more difficult in Europe, where Muslim populations contain larger numbers of extremists but who necessitate mobilization into cells of transnational terrorist organizations in order to commit mayhem, as in Paris and Brussels. If the US had stricter gun legislation, it would face no domestic jihadist terrorist threat.

On “lone wolf” terrorists, see Isaac Chotiner’s must-read interview in Slate with political scientist Jeffrey D. Simon, author of the 2013 book Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.

Academic blogger Juan Cole has an instant analysis, “Omar Mateen and rightwing homophobia: Hate crime or domestic terrorism?” See also sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer’s blog post, “Orlando massacre: ISIS inspired or homophobic attack?”

France 24 reporter-blogger and friend Leela Jacinto, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan over the years, has been looking into the curious case of the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, “Sins of the father do not apply to the Orlando nightclub attacker.” Money quote

By all accounts Mateen Senior is bombastic, delusional, prolix and probably dyslexic. In some crazy phase of his prolific, self-made media career, he proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan. That’s how batty he is.

But like many parents of kids who have jumped on the Daesh/Islamic State (IS) group killing train, he has never advocated killing people who disagree with him.

This is consistent with the generational break we are witnessing between immigrant parents who have left their native lands and their children who have a limited, at best, grasp of their parents’ countries of birth.

Leela quotes Barnett Rubin of Columbia University, the world’s leading political science authority on Afghanistan, who has also been on the Omar Mateen père story

As Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, tweeted, “Orlando shooter’s dad Seddique Mateen doesn’t support Taliban or anything but himself. No wonder his son was unstable. Look at his FB page.”

After examining what he deliciously called Mateen’s “logorrhean FB page,” Rubin not surprisingly concludes, “He is a nut”.

Not nearly as much as his son, alas.

As for the fallout on the US presidential campaign, there will be none, except perhaps to reinforce Hillary and make the specter of Trump in the White House that much more alarming. If terrorism becomes an issue in the fall campaign, Hillary can only benefit. More on this another time.

UPDATE: See the powerful “Reflections on Orlando” by New York LGBT blogger Michael Bouldin.

2nd UPDATE: On the matter of guns, Huff Post foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg has a piece explaining “what happened when a terrorist attacked LGBT people in a country with strict gun laws.” The country in question is Israel. The lede: “There’s no right to bear arms in Israel, and the death count in recent terror attacks is much lower than in terror-inspired U.S. mass murders.” Right-wing Americans who adhere to the NRA (and AIPAC) viewpoint are invited to read this and, if they care to do so, respond to it.

3rd UPDATE: Watch Vox’s extraordinary seven-minute video, “America’s gun problem, explained.”

4th UPDATE: WaPo reporters Kevin Sullivan and William Wan have a must-read portrait (June 17th) of Omar Mateen, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter.” It wasn’t sympathy for the Islamic State which drove him to commit mass murder, that’s for sure.

Also see the report (June 18th) by TDB’s Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny, and Katie Zavadski, “The unhinged home that raised Orlando killer Omar Mateen.” Talk about a dysfunctional family, and for whom religion was clearly not central.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, in an Orlando-related piece (June 22nd), “The Islamization of radicalism,” interviews Olivier Roy “on the misunderstood connection between terror and religion.”

New York Daily News_June 13 2016

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Since launching this blog 4½ years ago I’ve had posts on every major massacre in the US—Charleston, Isla Vista, Sandy Hook, Aurora—plus Utøya in Norway but didn’t have the reflex to comment on this latest one. Like, what’s the point? What more is there to be said about the insane American exception regarding the over-the-counter sale of semi-automatic weapons, which is the cause of the massacres? Moreover, there is clearly no chance whatever that the minds of the gun nuts will be changed by rational argumentation on the subject (à propos, I have been bombarded with the most hostile comments by far on my posts on guns; these people are completely unhinged). But there is always something new and/or interesting to be said. In lieu of saying it myself, I will link here to pertinent commentaries with original angles or analyses on the question that I’ve come across over the past couple of days.

Before I get to those, I would like to tell any anti-gun control/pro-NRA person—e.g. almost all Republican party politicians and right-wing commentators—who, after a gun massacre in the homeland, says that his or her “prayers and thoughts” are with the families of the victims to take those “prayers and thoughts” and stick them up his or her a—. And then to go f— him or herself.

Okay, that off my chest, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, who is brilliant on this issue, has a commentary dated yesterday explaining that “The Second Amendment is a gun-control amendment,” that sane gun control legislation may be entirely based on a correct reading of that unfortunate constitutional amendment. Money quote

In point of historical and constitutional fact…the only amendment necessary for gun legislation, on the local or national level, is the Second Amendment itself, properly understood, as it was for two hundred years in its plain original sense. This sense can be summed up in a sentence: if the Founders hadn’t wanted guns to be regulated, and thoroughly, they would not have put the phrase “well regulated” in the amendment. (A quick thought experiment: What if those words were not in the preamble to the amendment and a gun-sanity group wanted to insert them? Would the National Rifle Association be for or against this change? It’s obvious, isn’t it?)

Indeed. A question to the gun whack jobs: What is that bit in the Second Amendment about “a well-regulated militia” supposed to mean anyway?

In his comment, Gopnik refers to the dissent of SCOTUS Justice Jean Paul Stevens in the D.C. v. Heller ruling. More than one person on my social media news feeds has posted former Justice Stevens’s WaPo op-ed dated April 11th 2014, “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.” It won’t happen but is an excellent proposition nonetheless.

Vox has one its ‘Explainers’ columns explain “America’s gun problem,” in which several points are made and elaborated upon

1) America’s gun problem is completely unique. 2) More guns mean more gun deaths. Period. 3) Americans tend to support measures to restrict guns, but that doesn’t translate into laws. 4) The gun lobby as we know it is relatively recent but enormously powerful. 5) Other developed countries have had huge successes with gun control. 6) Although they get a lot of focus, mass shootings are a small portion of all gun violence.

Also on Vox is “One map that puts America’s gun violence epidemic in perspective,” which has a fact-filled 2½-minute video explaining that “America’s biggest gun problem is the one we never talk about.”

In the LAT last April 22nd, David Hemenway, who is professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. had an op-ed informing the readers that “There’s scientific consensus on guns — and the NRA won’t like it.”

For a historical perspective, Fordham University historian Saul Cornell and lawyer and Second Amendment specialist Eric M. Ruben have an article in The Atlantic dated September 30th on “The slave-state origins of modern gun rights.”

Voilà, until the next massacre…

UPDATE: Vox’s German Lopez interviews Vanderbilt University psychiatry, sociology, and medicine, health, and society professor Jonathan Metzl, in a post that says “Everyone blames mental illness for mass shootings [b]ut what if that’s wrong?”

2nd UPDATE: NYT columnist Frank Bruni’s Sunday column (October 4th), “Guns, campuses, and madness,” takes up insane new state laws that allow for concealed carry on university campuses, including in classrooms and dormitories. The lede: “The University of Texas, with its memory of mass death, is a study in our national perversity about firearms.”

3rd UPDATE: Also worth reading in the Sunday NYT is Nicholas Kristof’s column “A new way to tackle gun deaths.”

4th UPDATE: The Sunday NYT reports that the father of gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer, who killed himself after committing his massacre, is “dismayed by [the] lack of gun legislation.” The report begins

The father of the gunman who killed nine people at a community college here called on the nation to change its gun laws on Saturday, saying the massacre “would not have happened” if his son had not been able to buy so many handguns and rifles.

“How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal?” the father, Ian Mercer, said in an interview with CNN at his home in Tarzana, Calif. He said he had no idea that his son owned more than a dozen firearms.

Of course.

5th UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, as is his wont, asking “When will [Republicans] demand that the US break off diplomatic relations with any country that doesn’t allow visiting Americans to bring and carry their guns?” This actually poses an interesting question as to whether or not Republicans and others who share the NRA’s world-view consider the “right to keep and bear arms,” as their interpretation of the Second Amendment has it, to be an inalienable human right on a par with the rights in the First Amendment and, if so, if they think that US foreign policy, in its promotion of democracy and human rights, should also press countries to align their gun legislation along US norms. Just wondering.

6th UPDATE: Blogger/writer Amanda Marcotte has a spot on piece in Salon (October 5th) on “why the gun nuts win.” The lede: “The fantasy lives of gun lovers, such as Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, are why we can’t address gun violence.” This passage merits quoting

John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County who has been in charge of the police response and investigation of Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, has fallen under media scrutiny because he’s left an eyebrow-raising trail of gun nuttery that shades into conspiracy theorist territory. His past behavior calls into question not just his own office’s ability to handle this case responsibly, but tells us a lot about why it’s so hard to even begin to have a reasonable conversation about guns in this country, much less move towards sensible policies to reduce gun violence.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands. (…)

It’s not just Hanlin. Guns are generally talked about in right-wing circles in…mythical terms. And because a gun isn’t just a gun to conservatives, but a symbol of all they hold dear, having a reasonable conversation about gun control has become impossible. To liberals, it’s about keeping guns out of the hands of people who misuse them. But to conservatives, it’s clearly about stripping away their very sense of identity, which is naturally going to be a touchier subject.

In this vein, MoJo has reposted a 2014 comment by Ben Dreyfuss on “what it’s like arguing with gun nuts on the Internet.”

Also in MoJO is a link to John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ commentary after the Oregon massacre, in which, using humor and irony, he makes a serious argument and “slams Republicans who only discuss mental health to actively avoid gun control.”

7th UPDATE: Following the Oregon massacre Politico reposted on social media an article dated July 18th, by historian Josh Zeitz, that poses the excellent question: “If guns make us safer, why not let them into the U.S. Capitol?”

Also in Politico is an article (October 5th) by UT-Austin prof Matt Valentine on “The myth of the good guy with a gun.”

8th UPDATE: WaPo’s The Fix page has a must-read piece, dated August 14th, by reporter Amber Phillips on “The NRA-ification of the Republican Party.”

9th UPDATE: TAP’s Paul Waldman has an excellent, totally spot-on commentary (October 11th) on “Ben Carson, American gun advocates, and the fantasy of individual heroism.” The lede: “The delusion that one person with a rifle can fend off doomsday explains how many on the right see their relationship with the government.” This delusion is so obvious that, BTW, I will refuse, out of principle, to address—let alone respond to—the apparently widespread conviction in the crackpot sectors of the American right—which are substantial these days—that European Jews, had they been armed, could have resisted the Nazis and maybe staved off the Holocaust. Anyone who can believe such a thing lives in an alternate reality and is quite simply beyond the pale. And is also entirely ignorant of history.

10th UPDATE: Political scientist Ellis Goldberg has a pertinent observation on the Second Amendment on his Facebook page

Having looked at some of the legal history literature on the second amendment I confess to being puzzled. First because in the 18th century (and particularly in England but also in the American colonies) “militia” referred generally to military organization and “the militia” was a locally paid force commanded nominally by the sovereign and directly selected and disciplined by the county’s Lord Lieutenant. Second, the right to bear arms generally marked a distinction between either free and slave or between loyal subjects and untrustworthy subalterns (Scots in the early 18th century or Irish peasants). If anyone can throw light on this I’d appreciate it. I’m not interested in discussion of what the second amendment ought to be mean, can mean, or used to be held to mean. I’m interested, at a minimum, in the mid to late 18th c. contextual (aka “originalist”) meaning. I don’t seem to be picking this up even in articles by major scholars about the original meaning.

Goldberg continues

Akhil Amar in his book on the Bill of Rights notes the distinction between the rights of “first-class” citizens including juries and arms and those of ordinary subjects or inhabitants whose property rights would be respected but who lacked political rights and he argues that the militia was viewed as “the people” but he seems to ignore that “bearing arms” was a way of distinguishing between full citizens and those without full political membership (ie those who had and those who lacked political rights) and he also seems unwilling to link up American practice with contemporary English practice as well as with those sections of the Federalist Papers which make it quite clear that militias are commanded by officers chosen by the state governments from among rights-bearing citizens.

Comments are welcome from those who adhere to a strict “originalist” interpretation of the constitution.

11th UPDATE: See the article by Malcolm Gladwell in the October 19th issue of The New Yorker, “Thresholds of violence: How school shootings catch on.”

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The Charleston massacre

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,  Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders  (Image credit: BBC News)

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,
Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders
(Image credit: BBC News)

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As usual in the aftermath of such horrific events, I have nothing in particular to add to what has already been said by others, except to observe that while there are psychos and homicidally-inclined racists everywhere, such a massacre is, in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings. The issue in this one is not the persistence of racism in America—racism and hatred of the Other are present everywhere—but that the 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who’s the same age as my daughter and a sizable number of my students over the years, was in legal possession of a .45 caliber handgun, and which was apparently given to him as a birthday present by his father no less. Needless to say, such a gift from father to son in France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan etc—and who are not in a mafia family—would be totally inconceivable. And illegal. In France—or in Britain, Germany, etc—there is no way a young man his age not associated with a criminal gang could come into possession of such a weapon. If Dylann Storm Roof had not had that gun—if America’s gun laws were akin to those where I live—the nine parishioners of Charleston SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church would be alive today.

Can Dylann Storm Roof’s father be made liable for the massacre, as an accessory to the crime? He should be, morally if not legally.

On the centrality of the gun question here, Vox staff writer German Lopez has a piece on that fine website—with statistics and videos—saying that “Obama is right: gun violence is much worse in the US than other advanced countries.”

Also on Vox is a post by Max Fisher in which he has a quote by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik—a passage I’ve no doubt quoted myself—saying that “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings.”

The most intelligent reflection I’ve read on the massacre so far is David Remnick’s in The New Yorker, “Charleston and the age of Obama.”

For the moment at least, that’s as much as I have to say.

UPDATE: I wrote above that the Charleston massacre is “in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings.” I should modify the bit about “the Western world” to read “in any society not in the throes of a civil war or riven by communal conflict.”

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a short video (3:45) on how “The Charleston shooting is part of a long history of anti-black terrorism.” Watch it.

The second most popular article on The New Yorker website at the present moment (June 20th) is a commentary by Adam Gopnik dated December 19th 2012—which I linked to back then—on “The simple truth about gun control.”

Making the rounds on social media this weekend is the video of a 16-minute stand-up act by Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, who “perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy,” and which I linked to three months ago.

TNR senior editor Jeet Heer, weighing in on right-wing media coverage of the Charleston massacre, has a commentary on “National Review magazine’s racism denial, then and now.” I have also mentioned NR’s treatment of race, in a post four years ago.

And here’s a hard-hitting SFGate.com blog post (June 19th) by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, on “The myth of America’s awesomeness.” Morford’s comment, which is driven by the Charleston massacre, veers somewhat off the topic but not entirely.

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Killed by police

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Killed by Police.net: This website, established in May 2013, documents, via news reports—as there are no official statistics on the question—all persons killed in the United States by the police, whatever the reason. In 2014, an average of 92 persons per month were killed by the police somewhere in the US. From May through December 2013, the average monthly number was 96. Some of those killed were allegedly armed—and “allegedly” must be underscored here—a few of whom allegedly shot at the police first. But reading the news dispatches at random, it is clear that most of those who were allegedly armed did not initiate fire. The cops shot first. And then there were all those shot and killed who were not armed—and who were, of course, disproportionately black.

Contrast this with France, where some 10 to 15 persons a year are killed by the police. That’s a year, not per month. From 2000 to 2014—over a 15-year period—a total of 127 persons were killed by the police in France. N.B. These figures are not official—as with the US, there are no official statistics in France on the question—but were collected by left-wing associations—which have no wish to minimize police brutality, it may be mentioned.

On this score, France is actually a violent country compared to Great Britain, where, in 2013, zero persons were killed by police gunfire. In 2012, one person was killed by a bobby in all of GB.

Statistically speaking, one is 25 times more likely to be killed by a cop in America than in France. And 100 times more likely than in Britain.

There’s something very wrong with America: With the American police and in American society (all those guns).

On the April 4th murder of citizen Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston SC, I will recommend just two articles of the many I’ve read. One is “Seeing Walter Scott,” by Cardozo School of Law professor Ekow N. Yankah, in The New Yorker (April 12th). This one is particularly good.

The other is “When cops cry wolf,” by Frank Serpico, a man who knows of what he speaks, in Politico Magazine (April 10th). The lede: “Police have been setting up suspects with false testimony for decades. Is anyone going to believe them now when they tell the truth?”

While I’m at it, here is something I just came across in WaPo: “Cop accused of brutally torturing black suspects costs Chicago $5.5 million.” Wow, I had no idea. A Paul Aussaresses wannabe with the gégène and in my home town, and while I lived there…

And here’s a Special Investigation in the upcoming May-June issue of Mother Jones, “What does gun violence really cost?” Cost America, that is.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times informs its readers (April 9th) that “Nearly 9% of Americans are angry, impulsive – and have a gun…” The article reports on a study—carried out by a team of researchers from Columbia, Duke, and Harvard—just published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law. It begins

Tread lightly, Americans: Nearly 9% of people in the United States have outbursts of anger, break or smash things, or get into physical fights — and have access to a firearm, a new study says. What’s more, 1.5% of people who have these anger issues carry their guns outside the home.

This means that some 430,000 potentially dangerous Americans are legally armed and may be roaming about at any given moment.

BTW, did anyone see the video clips of Wayne LaPierre’s keynote speech the other day at the NRA’s annual meeting? These people make the French Front National look like centrists.

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a spot on post (April 9th) by its race, law, and politics reporter Jenée Desmond-Harris on “Why it’s finally catching on that ‘What about black-on-black crime?’ doesn’t make sense.”

3rd UPDATE: Vanity Fair editor Kia Makarechi has an article (July 14, 2016) on “What the data really says about police and racial bias.” The lede: “Eighteen academic studies, legal rulings, and media investigations shed light on the issue roiling America.”

4th UPDATE: See the essay (September 16, 2016) by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr., who thinks outside the box and is never not interesting, on “How racial disparity does not help make sense of patterns of police violence.”

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On America and guns

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Vox.com has a great, funny, must-watch 16-minute video of a stand-up act by an “Australian comedian [who] perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy.” The comedian is Jim Jefferies, whose act here was in Washington last summer. He completely, totally nails the absurdity of the arguments of the gun lobby and its supporters. Watch the YouTube and enjoy.

And ICYMI, here is Rachel Maddow last week on a “[p]owerful anti-gun ad [that] panics gun rights groups.” The lede

Rachel Maddow reports on an anti-gun publicity stunt that is so powerful in making its point that gun rights groups are freaking out, voicing their objections and attacking States United to Prevent Gun Violence any way they can.

Great stunt. SUPGV is an NGO that merits all the support it can get.

UPDATE: Firmin DeBrabander, a professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, has a piece in The Atlantic—in which he bends over backward to be polite to the gun lobby and considerate of its arguments—on “How gun rights harm the rule of law.” I wager that NRA members will reject whatever Professor DeBrabander has to say—if they even bother to read him—for the simple fact that he’s a college professor of philosophy (and writing in some librul publication they’ve never heard of…). Pour l’info, DeBrabander has a book coming out in May entitled Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society. (April 1st)

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I saw this three days ago, the day it opened in France. I made it a point to read nothing on the movie beforehand—either reviews or articles—though am aware that it is a big box office hit in the US—beyond all expectations—and particularly among conservatives. And I still haven’t read anything about the movie, though will, after writing this. My verdict: It is a reprehensible film. It is so because it makes a hero out of a man who is, in fact, not a hero and who achieved his heroic status—in the eyes of those who accord him this (and they are numerous in l’Amérique profonde, as one sees at the end)—in fighting and killing in a war that America had no business fighting. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is considered a hero because he killed 160 combatants and other irregulars who were out to kill American soldiers in a war zone. Bully for him. Soldiers protect their own in all wars, no? What else is new in the history of warfare? CPO Kyle, we learn, went beyond the call of duty to protect his buddies. He was a brave man, intrepid even. Bully for him again. One may understand why he was considered a hero within the US military—fellow soldiers called him “the legend”—but there is no rhyme or reason for him to be considered as such by any citizen outside the military.

It would be otherwise, of course, if CPO Kyle had been killing enemy combatants who were at war with America and posed a threat to America inside its borders. Celebrating his feats in the larger society would thus be comprehensible. But this was the Iraq war. The nagging (rhetorical) question that went through my mind throughout the film, in watching Kyle and his fellow soldiers engaged in urban warfare in Fallujah and Ramadi, was WTF were they doing there in the first place? What enemy were they fighting? Now it is established early in the film that Kyle enlisted with the SEALs following 9/11, as a patriotic reflex of an American whose country was attacked. Lots of Americans had that reflex (for the anecdote, in the days after 9/11 I let the US embassy in Paris know that my services were available—including to any intelligence agency—should they want them; I didn’t hear back). After completing SEAL boot camp the film jumps to Kyle in Iraq. But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq posed no threat to America. Now the US government of the time and all sorts of other Americans intoxicated by nationalist hysteria or Washington groupthink believed that Iraq was indeed a threat to the United States, but those who knew something about the Middle East and, more generally, how to analyze and think coherently—which includes myself, obviously—knew this was preposterous and argued it to all and sundry.

At one point in the film, Kyle tells one of his buddies that “we have to kill the enemy here so they don’t come and kill us in New York or San Diego” (approximate quote). That even an ignorant soldier could believe such bullshit by 2005 is breathtaking. The enemy that Kyle & Co were fighting is clearly identified: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida in Iraq (not once is Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist regime—the ostensible threat to America in 2003—mentioned in the film). Now Zarqawi and AQI were definitely not nice people. I will even agree with Kyle that they were Evil (capital E) (the notion that America is fighting Evil, and not just in Iraq, is evoked more than once in the film). But here’s the thing: America did not invade Iraq to fight Zarqawi and AQI. AQI, which posed no threat to the American homeland, did not even exist when America launched the Iraq war. The very existence of AQI—and its presence in Iraq’s Sunni triangle—was a direct consequence of America’s invasion. And Fallujah being reduced to rubble and its population driven from the city was directly caused by America being there (the scene in the house that the soldiers have stormed—with Kyle demanding to know what the family is doing there and why they hadn’t evacuated the city—is incredible, as if people should naturally abandon their homes and worldly possessions—to looters, criminals, terrorists, whoever—because a foreign army tells them to). None of this is examined in Eastwood’s film. America is in Iraq fighting the enemy because that’s what it’s doing. America is there because it’s there. Fighting Evil there, before it comes for us here.

Further contributing to the film’s reprehensibility is its backhanded celebration of America’s gun culture—and of militaristic values more generally (American society being the only one in the Western world, as Tony Judt observed in one of his later essays, that continues to exalt the military and its values). In the opening scene we see seven-year-old Chris in rural Texas bagging a deer on his first hunting trip with his father. Kyle père is teaching his son how to handle firearms. Now I can accept that rural people the world over and since time immemorial hunt and have rifles at home. I don’t relate to it but, for rural folk, that’s just the way they live and I pass no judgment on it. But the moral code that daddy Kyle seeks to instill in his sons around the dinner table—which is underpinned with violence and accompanied by stupid ass references to God and the Lord—is another matter. I’m sorry but Chris Kyle’s father—who was ready to whip his sons with a belt—was an asshole. And then there’s the scene toward the end, of Kyle at home with wife and kids—before he drives off in his pick-up and gets murdered—goofing around the living room and kitchen with a six-shooter, which may or may not be loaded (but if the gun’s not loaded, what’s the point of having it in the first place, if, acting with hair-trigger presence of mind, one can’t immediately neutralize a bad guy entering the house uninvited, or some shit like that?). Anyone who keeps a handgun at home, in proximity to children, and plays around with it in front of children to boot is a reprehensible SOB.

On ‘American Sniper’ as cinema, it’s okay. Bradley Cooper puts in an acceptable performance, though hardly deserves an Oscar nomination for it. Sienna Miller is likewise acceptable as Chris’s wife Taya—she’s certainly attractive—but spends too much of the film weeping over her husband going off on yet another tour with his beloved SEALs (for Chris Kyle, Iraq was a war of choice). And the scenes of their lovey dovey satellite phone conversations while he’s picking off enemy fighters from rooftops or heading into combat stretched credulity. One would think that any soldier who chats up his wife or g.f. on the phone while under fire would be reprimanded by his commanding officer, if not subjected to disciplinary action. Generally speaking and in view of its inescapable political parti pris, I don’t see how anyone outside of Jacksonian America—to borrow from Walter Russell Mead—can possibly adhere to the film and its message. But, as it happens, the early reaction in France has been positive, among both critics and Allociné spectateurs. The French love affair with Clint Eastwood continues. Every last Eastwood movie—including his worst and/or schlockiest—receives a rapturous welcome here and ‘American Sniper’ appears to be no exception. Hélas.

ADDENDUM: A further comment. Toward the end of the film Chris Kyle, in dealing with his PTSD, attends rehab sessions with Iraq war vets who have suffered serious injury (limbs blown off, etc). Some 40,000 American soldiers were killed or wounded in Iraq, many of the latter saved thanks to advances in military medicine, who would have died of their wounds in previous wars. What do Jacksonian, Fox News-watching Americans make of this? In fact, they almost have to uncritically accept the thesis of the film—that America was fighting Evil, no questions asked—as if one were to accept that the Iraq war was a catastrophic mistake—the most disastrous foreign policy decision in American history—then there would be no escaping the conclusion that Americans died or had their lives shattered for absolutely nothing. And then there is, of course, the number of Iraqis killed, which, since 2003, is heading upwards of 200,000 (if not more). Now most of those Iraqis were killed by other Iraqis. But if Iraq in 2003 was a Pandora’s Box of simmering sectarian hatred, America came in with a baseball bat and smashed that box open. The catastrophe in Iraq happened on America’s watch. And while there’s a lot of blame to go around, the catastrophic situation in Iraq today is ultimately America’s fault.

2nd ADDENDUM: One bit about the movie that caused me to jolt in my seat, but which slipped my mind while writing this post, was the final battle scene, where CPO Kyle finally terminates AQI sniper Mustafa with the golden bullet. The battle took place in Sadr City, which, as any halfway knowledgeable person knows, is the big Shi’ite quartier populaire of Baghdad. But AQI—which has since mutated into ISIS—is Sunni. AQI was killing Shi’ites when it wasn’t killing Americans. Sadr City at the time was Muqtada al-Sadr’s fiefdom, and he and his followers didn’t like AQI, to put it mildly. So on this level the scene makes no sense. Clint Eastwood and his team betrayed inexcusable ignorance here.

A correction: I wrote above that Kyle enlisted with the SEALs after 9/11. In fact, he did so after the 1998 Nairobi/Dar es Salaam bombings.

UPDATE: I’ve come across an excellent review/commentary on ‘American Sniper’, dated January 10th, by Ross Caputi, a former Marine who, like Chris Kyle, participated in the 2nd Siege of Fallujah. Caputi’s reaction to the film is similar to mine. His review is well worth reading. (February 28th)

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Fruitvale Station

fruitvale station

I’ve been following the events in Ferguson MO over the past week like everyone and, like everyone with a conscience and who knows how to think—and which even includes certain conservatives—, have been appalled by its only-in-America character. In following the events—which, being in the US at present, I’ve been able to do on cable TV—I have been reminded of this pertinent film, directed by the 26-year-old Ryan Coogler, that I saw last January, when it opened in Paris. It’s about the shooting and killing by a police officer of a 22-year-old black male named Oscar Grant III—who did absolutely nothing to invite being shot and killed—in Oakland CA on New Year’s Eve 2008-09, at the Fruitvale BART station, and which led to civil disturbances over the subsequent days (for details of what happened, go here). [UPDATE: Here are mobile phone videos taken of the actual incident by passengers on the BART train (h/t Ellis Goldberg)]. The film, taking some dramatic license, reconstructs the day of Oscar’s life that preceded his killing, of his somewhat unstable life relationship and employment-wise, but depicting him as a basically good guy who strove to lead a normal life and absolutely did not deserve to suffer violent death. It all goes to show that merely being a young black male in America and going about your life can get you shot and killed by the police, and even in the deepest of blue states. So if you want to see a movie that is both good—reviews were tops—and topical, see this one (which should have, by all rights, received Oscar nominations but did not). Trailer is here.

BTW, when I wrote above that the Ferguson events presently underway were “only-in-America,” I did not mean to imply that America is exceptional when it comes to racist cops behaving badly toward members of visible minority groups. This happens in many countries, including France, of course (I’ve had so many posts on this that they need not be linked to). What is only-in-America—among advanced Western democracies, at least—is the trigger-happiness of the police, of the sheer number of unarmed visible minority young men they kill. À propos, here’s a commentary in The Economist magazine I just read on the militarized “Trigger happ[iness]” of the American police, which so contrasts from its counterparts in Great Britain. And contrasting with another major Western democracy, here’s an item from two years ago on how “German police fired just 85 bullets total in 2011,” compared with the

84 shots [that] were fired at one murder suspect in Harlem, and another 90 at an unarmed man in Los Angeles.

In France the police are thoroughly racist and odious. And their behavior regularly provokes riots by youthful members of visible minorities. So how many people do the police kill during such occurrences? In the biggest recent riots of all—over three weeks in October-November 2005—the number of persons killed was exactly two (and neither by bullets). Case closed.

theconcourse.deadspin.comamerica-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913

In the interests of fairness and balance—and not to make the police look all bad—, I saw a quite good indy pic back in late ’12, ‘End of Watch’, directed by David Ayer, of a couple of buddy cops in East L.A. trying to do their job and who have to deal with, entre autres, Mexican criminal gangs whose proclivity for violence far exceeds anything any US police department would be capable of. Roger Ebert’s four-star review thus began

“End of Watch” is one of the best police movies in recent years, a virtuoso fusion of performances and often startling action. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are Taylor and Zavala, two Los Angeles street cops who bend a few rules but must be acknowledged as heroes. After too many police movies about officers who essentially use their badges as licenses to run wild, it’s inspiring to realize that these men take their mission — to serve and protect — with such seriousness they’re willing to risk their lives.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who called the pic “An all-time cop-movie classic,” also got it right. It’s a violent film, that’s for sure, but may absolutely be seen. Trailer is here.

UPDATE: My mother has a review (June 30, 2015) of ‘Fruitvale Station’ on her blog here.

end of watch

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Yet one more massacre

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.  (Credit: abc7.com)

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.
(Credit: abc7.com)

[updates below]

Joe Nocera of the NYT has a must read column today on the Second Amendment, “What did the Framers really mean?” For those who are maxed out on their free NYT access or are too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing

Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.

“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

Also worth reading is Michael Moore’s reaction to the Isla Vista massacre, posted on his Facebook page (h/t Lisa H.)

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

Yes, as this is America, it will indeed happen again. Very soon.

UPDATE: Americans get killed by guns every day, by people who are not criminals or “bad guys.” Every last day of the week. If one does not believe me, read the “Holiday Weekend Gun Report: May 23-26, 2014” on Joe Nocera’s NYT blog.

2nd UPDATE: Michael Waldman had an article, adapted from his book, in Politico Magazine dated May 19th, “How the NRA rewrote the Second Amendment.” The lede: “The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here’s how it happened.”

3rd UPDATE: Mother Jones has an interview (June 19th) with Michael Waldman, in which he talks about his book, informing us that “The Second Amendment doesn’t say what you think it does.”

71R1DRJ8pML

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12 Years a Slave

12-years-a-slave-poster

[updates below]

I’m presently in the US on holiday. Seeing a movie a day. And since I don’t feel like writing about politics at the present time, I’ll write about movies. This one I saw last week, catching it at the very last theater in the area where it’s still showing. As it’s at the end of its US run—sortie en France le 22 janvier—presumably everyone who has had any interest in seeing it has done so by now. I don’t have anything original to add to what’s already been said about it. It is quite simply the most powerful film ever made on slavery in the American South. It entirely merits its 97 score on Metacritic—and is the best American movie of the year IMO.

Two things that went through my mind during the film and thinking about and discussing it after. One was the terrorist regime in the American South—where I happen to be at the moment (in a civilized part)—and that persisted for a century after the end of the Civil War. The American South was the most politically reactionary, violent, quasi feudal, and least democratic part of the Western world into the mid 20th century. And the entire white population was complicit. There may have been a few relatively kindly or benign slave owners—and one sees two in the film—but they were still slave owners. During the post Civil War century of Jim Crow, no sector of white society, not even a small minority, challenged the existing order. Practically no Southern whites participated in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s or openly supported it. Cf. South Africa, where a minority of whites did oppose apartheid (some even joining the ANC). And also unlike South Africa, there was no Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the post-Jim Crow South. The federal government imposed the change on the South via legislation, court rulings, and even troops, and that was that. The South had no choice but to acquiesce. Of course there’s been accommodation, some at least, and life for black Americans in the South today bears little resemblance to what it was sixty years ago, but there’s still a direct line between the white Weltanschauung depicted in the film and that of the current Tea Party GOP, which dominates (white) Southern politics. How else to comprehend the GOP’s determination to restrict the suffrage via undermining the Voting Rights Act (America being the only country in the Western world—or even among non-Western democracies—where there is a concerted effort by one of the parties of government to effectively deny eligible citizens the right to vote, or to render it as difficult as possible)?

Second thought. In the scene in the film where the slaves are chopping trees with axes, one can almost feel how tempted they are—and particularly Solomon Northup/Platt—to swing around with those axes and use them on the slave owner and his overseers. White Southerners lived in permanent dread fear of slave revolts, which is one reason the violence meted out to the slaves was so extreme. If one was whipped for not meeting the quota for picked cotton, then the penalty for killing a white man could only be a slow, hideous death following torture and mutilation, and which the slaves knew well (and not even the slave owners had law on their side if they tried to shield their slaves from the wrath of whites of lesser standing; e.g. the scene of Solomon Northup/Platt being told by his first owner that he couldn’t protect him after the altercation with the overseer and the latter’s lynching posse). Thus the Second Amendment and the “right to keep and bear arms,” here the white population forming armed militias to control the slaves. The Second Amendment was demanded by the Southern states to this end, so explicates law professor Carl T. Bogus in his 1998 article “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” published in the University of California at Davis Law Review. America and guns: it was all about controlling slaves.

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait has a quite good essay, dated December 4th, “12 Years a Slave and the Obama Era,” on the New York magazine website.

2nd UPDATE: The Guardian has an interesting and informative article (January 4, 2014) on the film’s director, “Steve McQueen: my hidden shame.” The lede: “His new film 12 Years A Slave is an unflinching look at human brutality. But director Steve McQueen’s childhood contains a painful secret he has never confronted.”

3rd UPDATE: The Smithsonian magazine has a most interesting article (April 4, 2016), “Inside America’s Auschwitz,” by writer Jared Keller. The lede: “A new museum [in Louisiana] offers a rebuke—and an antidote—to our sanitized history of slavery.”

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The Business of Guns

(Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)

(Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)

[update below]

I received an email the other day from a representative of a website, Minute MBA, “that provides education and industry insights to current and prospective MBA students,” promoting a short video that “offers a politically-neutral snapshot of the financial state of the American gun industry.” It’s pretty good, so here it is. In just over one minute the video gives a good idea as to why serious gun control in the US—now or ever—is rather unlikely (and it’s not about the Second Amendment).

UPDATE: Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) has a post on the HuffPost politics blog, describing how “Hawaii has shown that gun control works.” One thing she neglected to mention—and that would reinforce the argument for national legislation—is that Hawaii is way out in the ocean, so that its gun control regulations cannot be easily undermined by firearms brought in from across state lines. (September 26)

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The Boston bombers – V

bruce beattie

John Cassidy of The New Yorker has a must read counterfactual reflection on what the fallout from the Boston bombing would have been had

the Tsarnaev brothers, instead of packing a couple of pressure cookers loaded with nails and explosives into their backpacks a week ago Monday, had stuffed inside their coats two assault rifles—Bushmaster AR-15s, say, of the type that Adam Lanza used in Newtown. What would have been different?

For starters, a lot more people would have been killed. But would the Tsarnaevs have been labeled “terrorists” (as Adam Lanza and Aurora shooter James Eagan Holmes were not)? Would their AR-15s have been designated as “weapons of mass destruction” (as the Tsarnaevs’ IED has been)? And what would have happened to the gun control bill in Congress? Read Cassidy’s examination here. And marvel once again at what a crazy country America is when it comes to guns.

Nate Silver had a post the other day on his FiveThirtyEight blog with poll data showing that Americans have a growing resolve to live with the threat of terrorism. In other words, Americans are, in fact, less hysterical over incidents of terrorism than the media makes them out to be. And they are certainly less so than politicians.

John Avlon of TDB has a column that is not really related to Boston—but is to the subject of my previous post, of politicians being idiots—, in which he expresses concern over adherence to conspiracy theories by growing numbers of GOP elected officials. “GOP lawmakers embrace the crazy.” I think we’ve known that for a while now.

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From The New York Times op-ed page

By GABRIELLE GIFFORDS
WASHINGTON

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, is a founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which focuses on gun violence.

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Armed correlations

Tom Tomorrow 12192012

Great tribune by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, on the NYT’s revelations of Newtown killer Adam Lanza’s home environment and the predictable response of the gun nuts. Gopnik is so good on this issue and says it better than I. Money quote (one of them, as there are several)

If America had gun laws like those in Canada, England, or Australia, it would have a level of gun violence more like that of Canada, England, or Australia. That’s as certain a prediction as any that the social sciences can provide. To believe that gun control can’t work here is to believe that the psyches of Americans are different from those of everyone else on earth. That’s a form of American exceptionalism—the belief that Americans are uniquely evil and incorrigibly violent, and that there’s nothing to be done about it—that doesn’t seem to be the one that is usually endorsed.

At this point in history anyone who supports the NRA’s position is a sick and deranged person. Pro-NRAers are loathsome and despicable people. End of argument. Case closed.

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The faces of evil

Larry Pratt

This man, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA)—a group that considers the NRA to be too moderate on the issue of guns, too willing to compromise and “sell out” the apparent rights of gun owners—, believes strongly that the response to the Newtown massacre should be more guns in America and in more hands, including those of primary school teachers and in the classroom.

This man below, John Lott, thinks likewise.

John Lott

Imagine that, arming primary school teachers in the classroom. Or any kind of teacher, including me. Me, packing heat in front of my students (or in front of anyone). I’m trying to imagine my 4th grade teacher, Miss Blakely (below, top row left), with a loaded gun in the classroom (and that she would presumably keep in a drawer in her desk, easily accessible to any of us 9 and 10-year olds; and that she would, with her hair trigger reflexes and presence of mind, immediately whip out of the desk the second a mass murderer burst into the classroom, neutralizing him before he could do harm; or, better yet, perhaps she would have the gun on her person at all times, along with all the other teachers: Mrs. Burgdorf, Miss Harney, our art teacher Miss Chris, music teacher Mrs. Heinemann, even gym teacher Mr. Grenke…; what a sight, all of them carrying loaded guns!).

Campus Elementary School Milwaukee 4th grade 1965-66

Anyone who thinks it not only appropriate for teachers like Miss Blakely to be armed in the classroom but that they should be, is not only a despicable SOB and with a sick, deranged mind but is also evil. If Larry Pratt’s and John Lott’s wishes were to become reality—of a society where just about everyone is armed, at pretty much all times, and with the arm of his or her choice, including semi-automatic rifles—there would simply be that many more people killed. This certain outcome of Larry Pratt’s and John Lott’s vision makes these men evil. Period.

Lott does have academic credentials and has authored a few books on the issue, and based on data, so it seems, though his arguments—and his use of data—have been rubbished, notably in this article by Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III in the Stanford Law Review (which was linked to in Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column yesterday, “Looking for Lessons in Newtown“).

Pratt and Lott have been making the rounds of the TV studios the past few days, including Piers Morgan’s show on CNN. Morgan, who is no gauchiste—having spent the early part of his career with Rupert Murdoch’s London tabloids—, nonetheless found these wankers beyond the pale (watch here and here). One notes with pleasure that Morgan told Pratt that “you’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” In addition to being stupid, Pratt is also a raving idiot and a brazen liar—and that Morgan took pains to point out—, in asserting that the parts of America “where guns are allowed freely” have lower murder rates than in Europe or the UK.

Where do they find these people? Under what rocks do they slither out from? Seriously, these men are the dregs of American society. Fifteen of the twenty US states with the highest gun homicide rates are in the South and mountain West, where, until proof to the contrary, guns have long been allowed rather freely. As for the gun homicide rate by country, the table in Charles Blow’s NYT column yesterday of OECD member states—i.e. the world’s rich countries—speaks for itself.

One thing Pratt said on Morgan’s show was that “Americans with firearms at home typically have them locked in a safe, as I do and as most gun owners certainly do.” Really? I wouldn’t know myself, except that I thought one reason people keep a gun at home is for protection against burglars or robbers who break into the house. But if the gun is in a safe, it will take a minute or so to get it out, and assuming the homeowner is in the same room as the safe. Normally time and presence of mind are of the essence in such situations, no? So if the gun is not literally on the person at the time of the break-in or within reach, what use is it protection-wise? Just asking.

But in the view of Larry Pratt, the Second Amendment is, in fact, not primarily about giving Americans the ability to protect themselves in their homes but, rather, as he explained to Chris Matthews here, “to control the government,” to potentially use against the US government if it goes “overboard”… All one can to say to this is to invite the members of GOA to do just that, and right now, against the government of that socialist Nazi Muslim Kenyan who sits in the White House: to collectively use their guns against the authority of the US government. And so the US government can then arrest all of them. And if they resist arrest, kill them. With guns and legitimately.

Teabonic

A couple of good articles read over the past couple of days:

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, always excellent on this issue, on “The Simple Truth About Gun Control.” Note, in particular, the report he links to from the Harvard School of Public Health, on more guns = more homicides.

On the NYT Opinion page, Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Cutting on “The N.R.A.’s Blockade on Science,” on the successful efforts of the NRA to block federal funding of research on the link between guns and violent death. One is left incredulous at this. These people—the NRA, GOA, the whole wretched lot of the pro-gun lobby—really are evil people.

Christopher Weyant 121912

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Michael de Adder 12-18-2012

Jeffrey Toobin has a great comment in The New Yorker on the Second Amendment and how it was interpreted until the 1980s, when the NRA—which was taken over by activist right-wingers in the late ’70s—successfully pushed for a novel reinterpretation—and that was at variance with two centuries of constitutional understanding. Toobin—who links to important articles by Jill Lepore and Reva Siegal—concludes his short piece with this

In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is.

Read Toobin’s piece here. Right now.

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