Lest We Forget

Reports on the internet are saying that today, someone recorded video of a UFO over the small town of Ma’alot in Israel.

Forty years ago today, a great evil descended upon that small town. 25 people were murdered, 22 of them children in a school.

That’s no UFO. It’s an angel, weeping.

Ignoring the Problem

Once again, we face a mass shooting, and predictably once again the cry will go up for more gun control.

Advocates of stronger laws will conveniently ignore that this event took place on a military base in Washington DC. The District of Columbia has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, they are quite possibly exceeded only by a set of 1993 executive orders banning all personal firearms from military bases. In short, the Washington Navy Yard was a gun free zone nested inside a firearm-restrictive city. Aaron Alexis violated multiple laws as soon as he crossed into the District, but those laws did nothing to stop him.

The problem isn’t the law. The problem is that Aaron Alexis, like all the mass murderers before him, was insane.

We have only ourselves and our good intentions to blame, because this all stems from a 1970s era initiative in mental health. Mental institutions became to be regarded as snake pits and chambers of horror, watch the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to get an idea of the attitude from that era.

While there was some truth in those attitudes, what was overlooked then (and still is today) is that some people are not capable of functioning in society, and some people are unbalanced to a point of danger. The latter probably should not be allowed to roam freely, for their own safety as well as the safety of others around them.

But that was all forgotten in the 1970s. Out of “compassion,” many mental institutions were closed down and the requirements for institutionalization were made much tougher. It was argued at the time that the mentally ill stood a better chance of recovery if they were mainstreamed into society, although as I recall little proof was actually offered.

Unfortunately, what this really turned into was a program to boot the mentally ill out the door and then ignore them. It’s no coincidence that the rise of the homeless in this country (particularly in cities) began just about the same time that the mental institutions were being emptied. It’s no coincidence that many of the homeless we see today are, clearly, mentally ill. They can’t function unassisted in society, but there’s no place for them to go any longer.

Forty years ago a guy like Aaron Alexis would have been restrained. Today our more “compassionate” society lets him walk the streets with no treatment, and eventually leads to the death of a dozen innocent people.

The simple fact is this: Anyone who wakes up in the morning and effectively says “What I need to do today is go murder a bunch of innocent people” is a person who meets a legal definition of insanity (“danger to self or to others”), and is a person who should not be allowed to roam free. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism that allows us to detect, intercept, and ultimately help both these individuals and their potential victims before the violence occurs.

I personally believe that in their hearts many liberals are aware of this problem and the cause, but they realize that solving the problem would be difficult, expensive…and would mean admitting the failure of a major liberal social movement. As such, they choose instead to blame the violence on guns, and push for gun control. Personally, I think they don’t expect to win, but in the meantime they can blame the killings on the NRA and individuals who oppose gun control.

And that means they can go about their days with clean consciences, which I suppose is really what is most important to them.

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It Would be Racist if a Conservative Said It

Apparently Sarah Silverman thinks it’s groundbreaking to imply that the NRA is a bunch of white Racists who would create a separate but equal organization for blacks. “Funny or Die?” Not funny.

Colion Noir has a different take on that, and as an actual NRA spokesman he deserves a listen.

Can’t Stop the Signal

The chain of events set off by Edward Snowden has troubled me from the start. He broke the law by taking matters into his own hands when he released classified data about the US government programs to monitor its citizens.

On the other hand, he forced us to confront something that many have vaguely known but tried to ignore: the government routinely monitors our communication. Worse, given the nature of the cell phone data sucked up in bulk, if they’re not monitoring our movements then it is only because they choose not to: location data from cell phones pinging towers would be part of the information they gather, and even without GPS information added it’s possible to triangulate with a great deal of accuracy. Ira Levin’s 1970 novel This Perfect Day had an all-powerful government that was able to track citizens by means of ID bracelets they were required to wear and tap on sensors as they passed, Orwell’s 1984 had ubiquitous telescreens. In reality, the government has had no need to force objects like those on us, we willingly go to the mall to buy the latest devices with our own money and carry them around with us voluntarily.

The government has promised us that the collected data will only be used to locate terrorists, and those of us who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear. Unfortunately, the number of laws on the books today is staggering. It’s impossible to count them, let alone understand them. One study showed that the might be in the neighborhood of 300,000 laws. If true…or if even three times the actual number…then it’s likely that each of us is breaking at least one of them every day. What that means in terms of a government promise to collect data only for use against bad guys is that the government probably can find reason to classify every one of us as a bad guy at any time it desires. We can all be declared terrorists in a state where the forgotten pressure cooker way in the back of a kitchen cabinet can be classified as part of a “weapon of mass destruction” should someone somewhere in authority choose to do so.

But I digress.

Snowden acted because he had access to information that he believed the people needed to know, and he revealed it. Likewise, Massachusetts State Police Sgt Sean Murphy has acted on his own to release photos of alleged Boston Marathon terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the night of his arrest. Murphy did so in response to The Rolling Stone decision to put a glamour shot of Tsarnaev on the cover this week. Murphy said that the public had a right to know what Tsarnaev really looks like.

Murphy is now in a fair amount of trouble, the 25 year veteran has been stripped of badge and gun and placed on desk duty while the State Police figure out what to do with him. The stated concern is that the release of the photos could jeopardize the prosecution’s case against Tsarnaev. I’m not sure how, the images weren’t a surprise to those who were following the events on TV the night Tsarnaev was caught (and that would be just about everybody in eastern Massachusetts).

Murphy and Snowden are more alike than different: both had access to information that was supposed to be kept from the public, both felt that the public was best served by the release of the information, both took action on their own, both are in hot water now.

I believe that this is the start of a trend, and we’ll see more of it. Lots more.

The risk of course is that everyone has their own vision of what information needs to be free. Someday there will be a release of information by an activist inspired by Snowden or Murphy, and that release will cause serious damage to national security. Once a trend like this begins, the standards of scrutiny slide downward. The genie is out of the bottle, the trend will probably expand.

We can only hope that it does more good than harm.

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Dr. Hook is Jealous

The newspaper Rolling Stone has decided to put a somewhat flattering photo of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhohkar Tsarnaev on the cover. The article may be critical, but the photo has raised some controversy. So far at the time of this writing, the drug store chains CVS and Walgreens, along with the convenience store chain Tedeschi, have announced that they will not carry this issue.

Tedeschi is based in Rockland MA, and CVS in nearby Woonsocket RI, so this is no surprise. The announcement by Walgreens was a surprised as they’re originally from Chicago, but the support is welcome.

The Rolling Stone has a right to publish whatever it wants (as an aside, we say that the Rolling Stone “…has a right…” and I think all would agree, even though the Rolling Stone is a corporation…but I digress…). The publication has never shied away from controversy, although one can debate whether the controversy over some of its articles (for example the 2010 interview with Army Gen. Stanley McCrystal) is a side-effect or a goal.

The proposed cover shows a flattering photo of Tsarnaev, he does look like a young rock star. It reminds me a bit of their April 1991 cover photo of Jim Morrison.

That’s the problem, at least here in the metro Boston area. Tsarnaev isn’t a rock star, he’s awaiting trial as a terrorist and a killer. Four dead (including a child), scores injured, all because two guys thought that God told them to murder infidels. Worse, the Rolling Stone chooses to do this when we’ve just barely cleaned the makeshift memorial from the Marathon finish line.

I think it’s fair to say that nearly everyone in the metro Boston area was either directly impacted by this attack, or is only one-degree-of-separation away from someone who was. I have a long time friend who was crossing the finish line when the first bomb went off, and I work with a person who was between the explosions when they happened.

Do not forget that this in a city that still has not completely over 9/11. The airplanes may have hit New York and Washington, but two of them left from Boston. Our friends, neighbors, and co-workers died in those airplanes as well, you can’t swing a bucket on a rope around here without hitting a person who lost someone on 9/11 or was impacted by the Marathon bombing.

We do not need for these Tsarnaev assholes to be glorified.

I do not know what the content of the article is, in fact based on the cover blurb it looks like it will take an unsympathetic look at Tsarnaev and his older brother. But this photo of Tsarnaev has him looking as though he’s the frontman for an emo band that has just scored high on the charts with its first release. Where are the photos of the dead? Tucked inside like an afterthought?

I believe the Rolling Stone has shown either poor judgment, or has chosen deliberately to print a cover knowing it would cause controversy and ensuing publicity. I’m guilty of contributing to that here, but if that’s the plan then it’s working. Few people could (without looking it up) tell me what was on any Rolling Stone cover in the past month. I know I can’t. We will, however, remember this one.

As said before, the Rolling Stone has a right to publish whatever it wants. Tedeschi, CVS, and Walgreens have a right to refuse to sell an item. Both sides are exercising their right. I shall exercise mine by choosing not to buy the newspaper elsewhere, either. It doesn’t matter, even with lower sales in this area I’m sure that nationwide there will be an increase this week that will make the publishers happy.

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Set Up for the Big Fall

In an article yesterday on the ABC News website, Dan Abrams says that George Zimmerman probably won’t be convicted of manslaughter or murder.

Abrams analysis is probably correct. The state’s case was weak to begin with, there were indications that Zimmerman was finally charged only due to political pressure, and based on what we have seen in the news the prosecution hasn’t exactly done a bang-up job.

What worries me about the Abrams article is that he seems to be not only setting us up to expect and acquittal, but also setting us up to believe that an acquittal would be a miscarriage of justice.

It’s only the third paragraph in the story where Abrams asks:

“So what happened? How can an armed man who shot and killed an unarmed teen after being told by the police that he didn’t need to keep following him, likely be found not guilty of those crimes?”

Well Dan, the answer to that question is “Maybe Zimmerman really was acting in self-defense.” Unfortunately, Dan goes everywhere except there  in the remainder of the article.

Abrams very next sentence gives us his position on the case: “I certainly sympathize with the anger and frustration of the Martin family…” Abrams postulates that the jury won’t find Zimmerman’s account of the events credible, but bemoans that the case simply won’t meet legal standards that would permit a guilty verdict. In other words, he’s saying Zimmerman is guilty but will get off on a technicality.

Abrams concedes “For a moment, lets put aside the fact that many of the prosecution witnesses seemed to help Zimmerman in one way or another.” One would think that this statement alone would sink Abrams entire thesis, but Abrams continues with the tar-and-feathers.

Abrams explains the difficulty of getting a conviction if the evidence isn’t overwhelming, and then lays out a case that despite what the prosecution presented, it may not be enough. Quote:

“If these jurors have questions or doubts about whether, at the moment he fired the fatal shot, Zimmerman ‘reasonably’ feared that this was the only way to stop from getting beaten further, then they have to find him not guilty.”

The subtle message that Abrams presents is that Zimmerman might literally get away with murder.  The misinformation begins in that third paragraph. Despite a widespread perception that Zimmerman disobeyed an “order” not to follow Martin, in reality the police dispatcher actually does not have the authority to order someone like Zimmerman to stop following a suspected intruder. Abrams never quite exactly says that the dispatcher does have that authority, but he reinforces that common misunderstanding with a bit of weasel-wording.

So, what’s this really all about? That’s where I’m a bit worried, and have been worried since shortly after the incident. I am not surprised to see an article like this, and expect to see more between now and the verdict.

If indeed the verdict is an acquittal, then I expect to see a tidal wave of similar articles, except they’ll be even less-reasoned and more emotional than what Abrams wrote.

The killing of Trayvon Martin long ago turned into a political event, and those who are using it as such probably are hoping that Zimmerman is acquitted. If Zimmerman is convicted, all that they will be able to say is “Justice was done” and pitch in on some celebration.

But if the jury comes back not guilty? The tinder is in place and the match is ready. Those who howled for Zimmerman’s arrest will be back and will howl for his blood (and I mean that in the literal sense). I would not at all be surprised if civil unrest were to follow, and in fact fear that this might be the goal of some of the instigators.

If violence breaks out, in the best case it will be confined to the Sanford FL area. In the worst case there will be violent outbursts across the country. The timing is right, factions in this nation are long past the point of dealing with each other reasonably. Anger is bubbling below the surface of society, be it from the lack of jobs, perceptions that the wealthy are robbing from the rest of us, or that the government is just getting too big with certain agencies being used as a hammer against the Obama administration.

Add on to that the unfortunate timing: we’re moving into the hottest part of the year, a time when temperature helps push tempers to the edge. Frankly, if there are people who are secretly hoping for a jury decision that will provide an excuse to riot, they could not have hoped for a better time of year to have this trial take place.

I remember clearly what happened when the cops in the Rodney King case got off, I think we’ll be lucky if a Zimmerman acquittal “only” results in an equal amount of damage.

I’ve been wrong before. I hope this turns out to be one of those times.

Car 54, Where Are You?

Quote:

John F. Kerry’s credibility took on more water on the second day of his Nantucket vacation flap, as the State Department backed off its initial denial the embattled secretary of state was yachting during the Egyptian military coup — and President Obama tweeted a photo of himself kayaking in a hat, sunglasses and polo shirt.

Egypt is in turmoil again as the Army booted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi out of office and seized power. What happens next remains to be seen, but for the past few decades the Egyptian military has been that nation’s organization with the closest ties to the United States (probably because of the large amounts of material we supply to them). It would also mean they would be the organization most likely to respect the peace treaty with Israel (an agreement that the Islamists reject). 

And while this happens, our Secretary of State is taking the long weekend off. 

It’s just one more example of the current administration’s total inability to grasp what is necessary for the United States to assist in international crisis. At least former Secretary Hillary Clinton had a clue, and had some success. Under Kerry’s leadership, however, the State Department seems unable to get anything right. The best description of Kerry’s style of diplomacy seems to be “Breeze in, make a speech, tell ‘em what they need to do, and breeze out.” (Then again, he’s only following the leadership style of President Obama.)

Kerry apparently needed to get back to the boat, it is after all one of the best weekends of the summer so far.

Ironically, this yacht has gotten Kerry into some trouble before.

Well, at least it’s back in Massachusetts, so with luck he’s paid the taxes on it.

There’s a riot in Egypt,
Snowden’s gotten on a flight;
There is fighting near Damascus
That’s backed up to Golan Heights;
Karzai’s feeling unbeguiled,
Putin’s due at Idlewild!
John F. Kerry, Where Are You??

In the words of  Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds: “The country’s in the very best of hands.”

They Were For the Election Before They Were Against It

The Boston Globe ran an editorial yesterday entitled Mass. should reconsider its plan to fill Senate vacancies. In the editorial, they point out ”Before 2004, Massachusetts followed the longstanding practice, shared by many states, of having the governor appoint a senator to fill a vacancy until the next federal election. Since 1961, when John F. Kennedy left the Senate to assume the presidency, Massachusetts governors have chosen interim senators with no intention of running for the permanent seat. That tradition should continue.“

But a mere seven months ago, they ran an editorial on December 4 2012 entitled “Mass. Democrats shouldn’t change laws on US Senate openings”. At that time, the argument was ”But when the state’s ruling party makes repeated adjustments to election rules, it starts to look like a case of democracy fatigue. Beacon Hill should leave the current law alone.”

Perhaps it’s also worth noting that this opinion came just about a month after the decisive electoral victories of both Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren, suggesting that the Globe’s view of a natural world order (“The Democrats are firmly in control here”) was in effect.

On the other hand, let’s go back a bit more than three years further to the summer of 2009, shortly after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. Then, the Globe’s position was Don’t let Senate seat be vacant at a time when the Tea Party was ascendant. Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (also known as “Obamacare”) was coming up for a vote and the Democrats held a razor-thin filibuster proof majority in the US Senate. In fact, the Globe’s worst fears almost came true when Republican Scott Brown won “the people’s seat.” In the end, the Democratic controlled Congress had to resort to a questionably legal two-step in order to get the ACA to pass at all.

Going back even further in time, in the fall of 2004 then-Senator John Kerry was running for President against George W. Bush. At that point, the Globe likely assumed he’d win handily. Unfortunately, Republican Mitt Romney was at that time Governor of Massachusetts, and under the laws of 2004 would have had the power to appoint a (presumably Republican) replacement. The Globe’s answer to this crisis? Strip the governor of the power to appoint, and leave it in the hands of the overwhelmingly Democratic voters of the state.

There are those who would say that the Globe’s position shifts like the wind.

Not me, I see a clear consistency: The Boston Globe simply stands strongly in favor of whatever plan will get a Democrat into an empty Senate seat, no matter what the will of the people may be.

And, like Orwell’s chocolate ration changes or state of war with Eurasia, they boldly do so with the confidence that their readers will not remember yesterday’s opinion.

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We Don’t Know What It Means But We Don’t Like It

The Supreme Court today released a decision in the case Shelby County vs Holder, and that decision invalidates Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
This is a controversial decision, and will become more controversial thanks to partisan reporting and misunderstanding. Another person not surprised that this will happen is  Professor  William Jacobson at the Legal Insurrection blog.
Here’s the background: Section 5 of the VRA deals with what is known as “preclearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before any changes are made to voting procedures. “Any,” in this case, can be as minor as relocating a polling place. At the other extreme, change includes redrawing electoral districts. Section 5 of the VRA was not touched by today’s decision.
However, Section 5 is applied to geographical areas that are defined in Section 4. Technically, with no Section 4 there is no purpose to Section 5 because there is no longer any defined area of authority.
Coverage in the media seems to imply that this is a death knell for the VRA, but overlooks the reason for the SCOTUS decision: the areas defined in Section 4 are based on data from 1965. This nearly 50-year old data is hopelessly out of date and largely does not apply. Additionally, in the original legislation, the content Section 4 was supposed to expire by 1970, at which time it presumably would be replaced by newer data. Or, to put it another way, today’s SCOTUS decision simply does to the VRA what was originally supposed to happen 43 years ago.
What actually happened when 1970 rolled around was that Congress simply renewed Section 4 as originally written instead of updating it. Section 4 has been repeatedly renewed and is currently not set to expire until 2031, at which time the data will be 66 years old. Much has changed since those days. African-American representation at the municipal, state, and national levels has dramatically grown, and now much more properly reflects the actual population.  In 1965 an African-American mayor, governor, or member of Congress was almost unknown, now all are common.
Congress has both the authority and the responsibility to update Section 4, but has failed to do so repeatedly and has instead chosen time and time again to kick the can down the road by simply renewing the old text.  Now, they’ve got no choice, they’ll have to do the rewrite, and they’ll have to use current data. (Watch all the critics of the decision gloss over the fact that Congress can solve this problem by simply doing what it was supposed to do 43 years ago.)
As Professor Jacobson points out, there’s currently a great deal of misunderstanding and misreporting of today’s court decision.  Some of that certainly is due to ignorance of the law, but unfortunately a portion of it is likely due to a desire to fan the flames. The Democratic National Committee, for example, wasted no time not only to slam the ruling but also to use it for fundraising.
The frightening aspect of this is that the misrepresentation of today’s SCOTUS decision will only push our national polarization a little further.  It’s not being helped by President Obama’s statement that he’s “deeply disappointed” in the decision.
The irony that his election to the White House is perhaps the biggest proof of all that the VRA may have served its purpose seems to have been lost on nearly everyone.
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Do They Also Think Mohammad Atta Was an Airline Crash Victim?

The anti-gun group Mayors Against Illegal Guns held a rally in Concord NH on Tuesday evening, and as a part of the rally they read the names of “victims of gun violence” in the US since last December.

One of the names on the list? Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon terrorist bomb attack on April 15. He was killed in a shootout with police in Watertown on April 19th.

Once caught, the group backpedaled and released a statement that “[Tsarnaev’s] name should never have been read.” One would think that this would be simple common sense, but apparently this anti-gun group is more interested in racking up the numbers in a body count than it is in contributing to an intelligent discussion.

But let’s take this a step further. If Tsarnaev’s name is on the list, then it’s also likely that also on the list is the name of every rapist, thief, murderer and burglar killed either by by police firearms or by law-abiding citizens using legally-owned firearms in the past six months.

They call themselves Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but in order to drive the numbers higher they apparently also include those who used legal guns. They just haven’t been brought to task on the rest of the names. It’s obvious from their apology that they have no intent of scrubbing their list of names unless called out on them each and individually. Surely they are aware that during this time, other very bad people have been killed by guns that were fired by police and law abiding citizens (statistically, in the US it works out to about ten per cent of all non-suicide firearm deaths annually). Rhett Butler would have described the organization this way: “You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail.”

Like most anti-gun groups, it’s obvious that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns is composed of two types of people: the liars, and the fools who believe their propaganda.

 

8:00 PM: Edited to clean up typos and a bit of grammar.

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