Blogs

Virginia Tech Students Speak Out

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 9:31 PM PDT

First there was the student who caught the sound of gunshots on his cell phone. Jamal
Albarghouti, whose video was shown on all the networks even became part of the media storm; the civil engineer was patched in to the CNN newsroom to talk about his 70-second clip.

But Albarghouti's is not the only voice and video out there from the school. MTV has a great compilation of sites where you can find Va. Tech bloggers, discussion groups, school emails, and firsthand news accounts. All from students and members of the school community who are far more in the know about the day's events than the ever-spectulative media.

My bet is that most of the nation has likely only heard of Virginia Tech, if they've heard much of anything at all, for their often-excellent Hokies football and basketball teams. Not anymore, not ever. And with this tragedy (the school's motto is Invent the Future) will come a transformed community. Because what's happening now, on this campus, is anything but a game.

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National Shooting Sports Foundation Website Notes: "College Shotgun Event Hits the Mainstream"

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 8:02 PM PDT

Man, I thought the lack of taste and web savvy at the NRA was bad, but it pales in comparison to an item that the National Shooting Sports Foundation—another big player on the pry-my-gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands lobby—has up on its website 12+ hours after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history:

College Shotgun Event Hits the Mainstream
Shooters from 32 colleges and universities competed at the 39th annual ACUI Intercollegiate Clay Target Championships. As youth development programs, like NSSF's Schlastic Clay Target Program gain popularity, more students are continuing to shoot competively in college.

Hello #1: Are the crisis communications folks at these places totally asleep at the wheel?
Hello #2: Can't the NSSF afford a spellchecker?

The NSSF has taken a particular umbrage at lawsuits accusing gun manufacturers of liability when they ignore obvious evidence that straw and kitchen table dealers are buying up guns only to sell them on the black market, as Greg Sargent reported in a 2005 Mother Jones piece called "The Ricochet":

Industry spokespeople insist that manufacturers aren't trained in law enforcement and are "no more responsible for criminal misuse of their product than Budweiser is responsible for drunk driving," in the words of Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a well-funded industry group.

Well-funded, indeed. As we reported in 1995:

A partnership between the government and the gun industry is marketing guns to kids in school. By 1999 more than 26 million students will have been exposed to a marketing program designed by the industry's leading trade association--the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The program, paid for in large part with federal tax dollars, aims to increase firearm sales and reduce support for gun control.

NRA's Response to Virginia Tech Shootings: Stand Your Ground

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 7:17 PM PDT

Perhaps the good folks at NRA were just as stunned as the rest of us at the Virginia Tech shootings, what else could account for the story (see below) that's up on their website? (As I write, 7:00 Pacific Time, more than 12 hours since the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history):

Wayne LaPierre: What They Didn't Tell You Today
4/13/2007
Today is one of the most important days of the year for gun owners. The start of the NRA Annual Meetings is both a celebration of freedom and a rally for the Second Amendment, but it's also a show of force by gun owners to the enemies of freedom everywhere.
As tens of thousands of freedom-loving Americans descend on St. Louis, the anti-gunners are doing everything they can to chip away at your rights.
Sarah Brady's sending e-mails to Brady Campaign supporters, hoping to start a Brady Gun Law Defense Fund. Unlike the NRA's Civil Rights Defense Fund, the Brady lawyers will be trying to hurt gun owners, not help them. They're pushing for persecution of the Second Amendment, not protection. But when we gather in St. Louis, we show them we won't be pushed around.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino's calling for a ban on all semi-automatic firearms. Mr. Mayor, we've already seen what that has done for England and crime there. Why would you insist on disarming law-abiding Americans? Menino and his cohort Michael Bloomberg want to turn millions of Americans into instant criminals. But when we gather in St. Louis, we show them we won't be pushed around.
Rebecca Peters of the International Action Network on Small Arms is pushing an arms trade treaty that would gut our Second Amendment freedoms. They're not interested in lobbying Congress or state legislators. Instead, they want to go global, with the help of anti-gun politicians in countries without the Second Amendment. That arms trade treaty, if ratified by Congress or signed by a future president, would mean a global war on your guns the likes of which has never been seen. But when we gather in St. Louis, we show them we won't be pushed around.
In fact, when we gather in St. Louis, we're pushing back. We're pushing for Castle Doctrine laws across the country. We're pushing for legislation that ensures the gun confiscations in New Orleans will never be repeated in this country. We're pushing to protect our rights to protect ourselves, even against anti-gun employers who want to leave you defenseless to and from work. When we gather in St. Louis, we're pushing to protect and promote our freedoms, and we won't stop pushing until we've won.

So originally, I thought they just hadn't updated their site. But the longer I look at it, the more it seems that they just retasked a three-day-old [NRA President] LaPierre speech to be the appropriate response to 33 shooting deaths.

All I can say to that is, wow. I can't wait to see what they put up tomorrow.

But LaPierre's rant provides a clue. So-called "Castle Doctrine" laws are the NRA's latest push. Here's the Wikipedia definition:

In the United States, laws informally referred to as 'castle laws' can sometimes impose an obligation to retreat before using force to defend oneself. The Castle Doctrine provides for an exception to this duty. Provided one is attacked in their own home, vehicle, or place of business, in jurisdictions where 'castle laws' are in force, one may stand their ground against an assailant without fear of prosecution.

As TNR points out, "the new stand-your-ground laws are so frightening because they cover shooters who simply feel at risk."

You can bet this is the strategy the NRA will be rolling out in the days to come: If only some VA Tech student had been packing.

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Wealthy California Liberals, Now More Powerful Than Ever

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 7:02 PM PDT

In what will inevitably be great fodder for the GOP primary winner, Forbes notes that:

In the first quarter, Californians contributed about $20 million to leading presidential candidates, with Democrats holding a 3-to-2 edge over Republicans, according to an analysis of fundraising data by The Associated Press.

So, California's 34 million residents will finally have a voice? Not so fast...

[M]ost of the money the candidates raised came from a small group of large donors. A study by the Campaign Finance Institute found that donations under $200 amounted to only 14 percent of the total raised.Contributions of $1,000 or more accounted for 79 percent of the total raised by the candidates, the institute said, compared with 68 percent in 1999.
"You have a bunch of presidential candidates and sitting senators and governors and congressmen who are dependent on very large donations from a tiny segment of the American public," said Steven Weissman, the institute's associate director for policy. "That should certainly raise concerns for those people who are worried about equal access to decision makers."

Er, yes.

Los Angeles Times Wins Pulitzer Prize for Oceans Package. We Say, the More the Merrier

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 5:17 PM PDT

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Only U.S.-based newspapers or daily news agencies are eligible for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism. So we give major kudos to the Los Angeles Times for winning a Pulitzer for Altered Oceans in July and August. Ok, Ok, so our oceans package was the first. But we're glad the MSM are pressing the issue.

Virginia Home to Lax Gun Laws

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 4:16 PM PDT

School shootings can happen anywhere, anytime. But it's worth looking at the gun control laws in Virginia after today's tragedy at Virginia Tech and noting that the state has a poor track record when it comes to gun control.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which issues an annual state reportcard on gun laws, gives the state a C-, noting that the state is outright failing when it comes to safety locks and standards. The state also doesn't allow cities to regulate guns, and it doesn't execute background checks on private sales - perhaps significant in this case - and it allows open carry of a handgun that has a capacity of twenty rounds or less. (The NRA tracks gun legislation closely as well. Check out the latest happenings in Virginia, or in any other state, via the NRA-ILA's clickable map.)

Earlier today President's Bush spokesperson Dana Perino addressed today's events and was asked how the President will respond in terms of gun regulations:

I would point you back to the fact that President, along with Secretary Spellings, hosted last October a conference on school gun violence after the Amish school shooting and the other shootings that had happened, because the tragedies are the ones that just collectively break America's heart...As far as policy, the President believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed. And certainly bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting...obviously that would be against the law and something that someone should be held accountable for.
Q: Does there need to be some more restrictions? Does there need to be gun control in this country?
Perino: If there are changes to the President's policy we will let you know. But we've had a consistent policy of ensuring that the Justice Department is enforcing all of the gun laws that we have on the books and making sure that they're prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

A reporter then pushed Perino (who's not yet comfortable with being pushed) noting that while Governor of Texas, Bush ushered in legislation eliminating the age restriction on gun possession.

Q: Should there be some kind of federal age limit, as far as the President is concerned, raising the age for gun possession in this country?
Perino: Unfortunately, I'm going to have to go back and look at what the record was in Texas.

Well, Dana, let me help you out. Texas is one of six states (Alabama, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Maine, Texas and Wyoming are the others) where there is no minimum age for possession. Virginia isn't one of these states, and the shooter of 30+ people and himself was not a minor, but gun control laws in aggregate help determine the accessibility of weapons and can impact the outcome of a tragic situation.

There is much, much more to be learned about what went down today, and how this troubled man got his hands on a gun is only a small part of the story. But be sure, just about everyone wishes it had been harder for him to do so.

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Sudan Allows U.N. Aid in Darfur, Thanks to Mia Farrow?

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 4:14 PM PDT

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir says he will allow U.N. aid in Darfur after three years of thumbing his nose at the U.N. and blocking humanitarian work there. Today he says he'll accept what a "heavy support package" including 3,000 well-equipped military police, six attack helicopters, and other aviation and logistics into Darfur.

What does Mia Farrow have to do with this? Quite a lot, believe it or not. As a good-will ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, she launched a campaign last month to coax (or shame) China's leaders into cooperation, as I blogged on Friday, by linking the genocide to the Beijing 2008 Games. China had until then used its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to thwart international sanctions on Sudan. (More than half of Sudan's oil exports go to China, and Beijing is the Sudan's leading arms supplier.) But upon Farrow's suggestion, Steven Spielberg sent a letter of concern to the officials he is working with as artistic adviser to China on the Games. Within days China dispatched a diplomat to the Sudan. It's possible that this recent step is just lip service. But even so, it has major ramifications. It's a sign that China cares more about its reputation as an ethical, rising global power than any sleazy oil source.

Are Cellphones Decimating Bee Colonies?

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 3:40 PM PDT

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Cell phone radiation may be messing with bees' navigation systems, throwing them off track on their way back to the hive. Via New Scientist, this latest explanation for the decimation of American bee colonies comes from Jochen Khun's team at Landau University in Germany. Bees disoriented by cell phones signals? It makes more sense to me than than an earlier theory reported by the New York Times: "It could just be that the bees are stressed out."

Reptiles Mysteriously Declining Alongside Amphibians

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 3:36 PM PDT

The catastrophic declines in frog and salamander populations may be spreading to reptiles. New Scientist reports that scientists reviewed data on ground-dwelling reptiles and amphibians collected over the past 35 years at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, finding a 75-percent decline in both reptiles and amphibians in native forest since 1970. The numbers of both increased in abandoned cacao plantations, by 4% annually for amphibians, and 2.7% per year for reptiles. Fungal diseases or pesticide contamination, blamed for amphibians' decline elsewhere, are unlikely to be behind the declines at La Selva, since they would affect abandoned plantations as well as native forest. The researchers suggest the cause may be a warmer, wetter climate that stunts tree growth, and reduces the leaf litter, where reptiles and amphibians live. --Julia Whitty

Plans To Restore Key Climate Sensor

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 3:13 PM PDT

You may not know that our ability to observe climate and atmospheric change has been declining in recent years. Just when we need it most. Another victim of too much money going to the wrong wars from the other NASA: the National Anti-Science Administration. Now NOAA and NASA (the real one) announce their plan to restore a key climate sensor designed to give researchers a more precise picture of the structure of the Earth's ozone layer. The NPOESS (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project) will include the OMPS Limb sensor (Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite), set to launch in 2009. Restoring the OMPS Limb sensor addresses one of the recommendations of the recently released National Research Council's "Earth Science Applications from Space: National Imperative for the Next Decade and Beyond." In other words, it means we're stepping into the future with at least one eye squinting partially open. --Julia Whitty