2007 - %3, April

World Wonders: When Will the U.S. Learn that Guns Kill More, Better, Faster?

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 3:42 PM PDT

In the U.S. media, coverage of the massacre at Virginia Tech has analyzed almost every aspect of the shootings in far more detail than the issue of gun control. Newsweek has an entire package up, with stories warning against demonizing "boy's play" (I'm dead serious), the role of a South Korean action flic in Cho's behavior, a careful timeline of Monday's events, and stories about survivors and victims. Only one piece addresses the gun issue at all.

In the international press, the response was universal: When will the United States stop giving its citizens the tools to kill each other?

OK, so we're not going to ban handguns as England has done anytime soon.

Side note: In some of the comments to my previous posts focused on gun control, I was repeatedly pointed to the high crime rate in Britain. Not so. New York City, whose population is a mere seventh of that of Britain and Wales, had 10 times as many firearm-related homicides last year. Britain's rate was its lowest since the late '80s. (Overall crime rates in the UK are down by almost half since the mid-1990's [PDF].)

But here's what we could do. One, close the loophole allowing people to buy guns at gun shows with no background check. That's just insane! Two, make weapons designed to kill large numbers of humans illegal: Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban.

The international press also referred repeatedly to America's gun culture. Even the Australian PM John Howard, who has strongly aligned himself with Bush, blamed gun culture. What does "gun culture" mean? One of our editors remarked that Cho looked, in his video, for all the world like the cover of Guns & Ammo (ammo vest, holster, shooting gloves—fingerless on trigger hand). She ventured that the NRA had groaned a bit when they saw that. But the question isn't why a mass murderer looks like the cover of a magazine—(a) delusions of grandeur, (b) consumer magazines work by making you want to look like the cover—the question is why do we have magazine covers that look like mass murderers? Why do we make movies where the heroes look like—and, um, are—mass murderers?

The one Newsweek story that does address the gun issue also raises another fairly obvious point. Gun sales should be limited to people who don't have a history of violent mental illness. Newsweek suggests that the law already technically calls for that, but enforcement amounts to a question on the paperwork the buyer fills out: "Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective or … committed to a mental institution?" Cho answered (falsely) "no," and then bought a semiautomatic weapon. I mean, they don't even take your word for it at the DMV that you don't need glasses.

The BBC observed that from the Democrats, nary a peep. Shame on them.

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Pet Food Recalls: Blame Bush. No Really

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 2:31 PM PDT

Rick Perlstein has an interesting and persuasive little column on AlterNet today. It goes sort of like this: First they came for the spinach. Then they came for the peanut butter. Then they hurt my dogs and I got pissed. Post pet-food recall, Perlstein looked into the Food and Drug Administration—the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of human and pet food—and found that it, too, had fallen victim to Bush's starve-the-good-parts-of-government philosophy. Between 2003 and 2006 FDA safety inspections were down 47 percent and staffing, 12 percent. Safety tests conducted on food produced in the United States were down by three quarters from last year to this. Not only is no one making sure your food is produced safely, they don't even care about your dog's kibble.

I'm with Perlstein. Bush can take my money, my health insurance, and my civil liberties, but he'll have to pry my little furry friend from my cold, dead hand.

How to Resolve Sectarian Conflict in Iraq? Follow Israel's Model!

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 1:06 PM PDT

Since the Israeli wall was such a great idea—and has been so effective in reducing terrorist strikes against Israel—the United States has decided to build a 3-mile long wall in Baghdad. The wall will further the balkanization of the once diverse city by dividing one of the more "restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it." My favorite thing about it is that the Sunnis and Shiites actually agree that it's a bad idea:

"Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?" said a Sunni drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. "This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at reconciliation."

"I feel this is the beginning of a pattern of what the whole of Iraq is going to look like, divided by sectarian and racial criteria," Abu Marwan, 50, a Shiite pharmacist, said.

The fact that Shiites and Sunnis agree on only one thing—wanting the Americans out—makes a pretty strong case that us leaving gives them a better shot at reunification than us staying—and building permanent cultural barriers.

(By the way, Mother Jones has a great photo essay of life along the Israeli wall.)

Blaming the Virginia Tech Victims, and Blaming the Blamers

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 11:56 AM PDT

Here's what two conservatives idiots had to say in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy. These comments are not only in incredibly poor taste, but demonstrate such poor judgment and such a complete lack of understanding of basic human instincts, it makes one wonder why the people who said them still have a venue to spout their opinions.

John Derbyshire, from the conservative National Review (yeah, this guy):

Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.
At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him... And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad.
Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything?

Nathaniel Blake of the conservative Human Events Online:

College classrooms have scads of young men who are at their physical peak, and none of them seems to have done anything beyond ducking, running, and holding doors shut. Meanwhile, an old man hurled his body at the shooter to save others.
Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that. …
Like Derb, I don't know if I would live up to this myself, but I know that I should be heartily ashamed of myself if I didn't.

And thankfully, the strongest condemnation comes from conservative quarters, proving there is sanity on that side of the aisle. Derbyshire's colleague at the National Review, John Podhoretz, steps in:

I have to dissent, in the strongest possible terms, from John Derbyshire's shocking posts on Virginia Tech. The notion that a human being or group of human beings holding no weapon whatever should somehow "fight back" against someone calmly executing other people right in front of their eyes is ludicrous beyond belief, irrational beyond bounds, and tasteless beyond the limits of reason.

Amen, brother. Now get your coworker who is "ludicrous beyond belief, irrational beyond bounds, and tasteless beyond the limits of reason" booted from your office.

New Evidence that White House and Dep't of Justice are Completely Intertwined

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 11:38 AM PDT

Yesterday at the Gonzales hearings, after almost everyone had gone home, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island busted out some snazzy charts that effectively displayed the breakdown of the wall between the White House and the Department of Justice, a wall that even Gonzales admits is important to maintain because of (1) the need for DoJ work to be impartial, non-partisan, and free of politics, and (2) the need to avoid conflicts of interests in the occasional situation where the DoJ prosecutes someone from the White House.

In the Clinton White House, four White House officials -- the President, the Vice President, the White House Counsel, and the Assistant White House Counsel -- were allowed to make contact with three Department of Justice officials "regarding pending criminal investigations and criminal cases."

In the Bush White House, the DoJ has almost become a wing of the White House. Four hundred and seventeen White House officials, including national security staffers and all members of the office of the White House Counsel, can make contact with roughly 30 Department of Justice staffers.

We probably shouldn't be surprised, though. After all, before Alberto Gonzales was named Attorney General and took his position at the top of the the DoJ, he was the White House Counsel himself. Any hope that the DoJ would function as an independent body went out the window a long time ago.

Spotted on Kevin Drum's Political Animal and Think Progress.

Vermont Senate Votes to Impeach George W. Bush

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 11:28 AM PDT

I blogged two days ago about the impeachment drive currently underway in Vermont, and how it had seen success in local governments but had stalled in the state legislature. Well, no longer.

The Vermont Senate this morning approved by a 16-9 margin a resolution calling on the U.S. House to launch impeachment proceedings of Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.
The Vermont Senate is the first state legislative body in the country to call on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. Impeachment resolutions are currently active in Hawaii, Missouri, New Jersey, and Washington.

Next up is Vermont's House of Reps. We'll keep you updated. Thanks to Kos for the tip.

Oh, and PS - I also highlighted some truly fantastic Doonesbury cartoons in that earlier post. Very funny.

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Sealing Vessels Stuck In Ice, Rescue Vessels Stuck Too

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 11:09 AM PDT

I've spent a lot of time at sea and wish no mariner harm. But… the Canadian sealing fleet is stuck in heavy ice off Newfoundland! CTV reports the Canadian coast guard estimates that between 400 and 500 people are stranded in as many as 100 vessels. "It's a dangerous situation,'' Eldred Burden, 48-year-old skipper who is trapped aboard his 18-meter vessel, told the Canadian Press via telephone. "There's not one thing you can do ... We're getting dragged out pretty good. You're up all night and the boat is heaving and twisting.''

Supplies and fuel are running low for many of the ships -- most of them longliner fishing vessels waylaid off the coast of northeast Newfoundland and southern Labrador, while on their way home from last week's seal hunt. Even a Coast Guard ice breaker, the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, sent to help, was stuck in the ice Wednesday as the massive sheets closed in around it. It's since been freed, but another icebreaker, the Ann Harvey, is now stuck.

Some of the ships have been stuck in the ice for as long as eight days, and it appears that conditions wouldn't improve until at least next week. In total three icebreakers are working the rescue, with three helicopters delivering supplies, and another three Cormorant search and rescue helicopters on standby. As many as a dozen of the ships are extensively damaged and some could even begin to take on water as the ice pressure subsides and they begin to slip back into the water.

If only Neptune had waylaid them before the seal hunt. Altogether a bad season for sealers (and seals), since the southern slaughter grounds were decimated by ice melt earlier this spring, drowning the baby seals and forcing even the hard-hearted Canadians to call off that stage of the hunt.--Julia Whitty

Joe Trippi Talks to Us About Joining the Edwards Campaign

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 8:27 PM PDT

Joe Trippi, the manager of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential race, who revolutionized political campaigning by embracing the internet, joined the campaign of Senator John Edwards today. He will serve as a media advisor to a campaign that is already distinguishing itself as one of the most tech savvy in the field: the Edwards website features an interactive blog and 23 different social networking tools; Edwards sends text messages to supporters via the geek-chic site Twitter; and he maintains (an occasionally raucous) virtual campaign office in Second Life. Trippi told me the Dean campaign is already looking like ancient history. Since 2004, the number of blogs on the Internet has grown by a factor of 50 and the launch of Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube has popularized social networking and Web video. "By the end of 2008, I think people will look back at the Dean campaign and say, 'Wow, it was so primitive, it was so yesterday,'" Trippi said. "I still think any of these campaigns are capable of just blowing the doors off and transforming our politics, and that's really likely to happen in 2008."

The campaign landscape on the Web has become much more competitive since 2004, when Dean had the virtual space mostly to himself, but also more volatile in ways that dark horse candidates can harness for quick and dramatic gain, Trippi asserted. "I really believe this: I think we are in a situation where one of these candidates could say something in a debate, or in a major address, or in a response to something that President Bush says, and all of a sudden, on that day, a million Americans decide, 'I'm going to sign up for him.'" He added: "That never would have happened in 2004; (the Web) wasn't mature enough."

Trippi said he's working for Edwards because he likes his stances on poverty, his work on global warming issues, and his position on the war, though, he noted, "it would be maybe a tough call between Obama and him on that issue, but they are both closer to where I am." He's also impressed by Edwards' effort to build a community of voters that would offer policy feedback and support well after Edwards is elected—something Dean was also interested in, he said, but never got to implement.

Abidingly speaking from a commuter train this afternoon, where his cell phone dropped our call probably 20 times and his voice mail quickly filled up, Trippi also pointed out an interesting parallel between his early political life and that of Edwards' wife, Elizabeth. Years ago, Trippi was drawn to the Web through the first bulletin boards on sites such as Prodigy and Motley Fool, and as a lurker and occasional contributor to blogs. "The same with her," he said. "I read her book, and I didn't realize that basically, when her son Wade had died, she was on the Web, and on greeting boards, boards where people came together and talked about what they were going through and the loved one they had lost, kind of consoled and talked to each other, and she had been a part of that community on the web for a long time before Edwards had decided to run for president. And like me, she started hanging out on political boards later in her life, when he was running. And that's why she is doing what she is doing today. But you don't see it in any of the other campaigns"--which Trippi believes have been slow to reach out to the blogs--"It came to her naturally, because of what she's been through."

Sloppy Media Coverage in the Wake of Virginia Tech Shootings

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 5:56 PM PDT

In the wake of the media blitz surrounding the Virginia Tech shootings, some are appalled at the airing of the videos, claiming insensitivity. Others may be wondering why the media has reported on the possibility of a backlash against Asians. Why has the media conjured up a scary threat of possible hate crimes with none forthcoming?

I think part of this answer lies in the media's attempt to address the fears of the post 9/11 climate. Many of us who are of Asian background waited with bated breath when the killer was identified as "Asian." That's a pretty damn big category: "Asian" could mean East Asian, South Asian, or Southeast Asian. And for South Asian Americans, vivid memories of post 9/11 backlash loom. People of South Asian descent were the first victims of deadly hate crimes. And just last month, Kuldip Singh Nag—an Indian American who is an Iraq war veteran—was assaulted by the police in Joliet, Ill., for being a "fucking Arab" and a "fucking immigrant."

So media outlets dutifully remind that entire communities cannot be held responsible for atrocities committed by a lone gunman, but meanwhile they are busy constructing and stereotyping the "Korean American community." Take for example this LA Times article. To its credit, the article points out that there is a history of minorities having to bear the brunt of collective punishment (think World War II). It also highlights how some Asian Americans are irritated that their so-called "community leaders" are falling over themselves to "apologize" and voice their "collective guilt." Minorities in this country shouldn't have to "represent" and "distance" themselves from every act that someone who resembles them commits.

But then, the article goes on to say:

For Korean Americans, the sense of shame may be particularly acute because of their cultural commitment to interdependence. "Here in America, we think of ourselves as much more separate and autonomous," said Stanford University professor Hazel Rose Markus, an expert in cultural psychology.

"Foundational to Korean thinking is the sense that you need to … adjust yourself to expectations. It's very, very important that you protect your family face and reputation, recognize that whatever you do has consequences not just for you, but for others as well."

"Korean thinking"? Wasn't the idea to suggest that you cannot make generalizations about the presumed thinking of entire peoples? The "Korean community" is no more cohesive and homogenous than the "Muslim community" or "South Asian community." When the shooters of Columbine went on a rampage, no one in major media outlets quoted "experts" saying, "You see, foundational to white thinking..." They didn't go looking for loosely defined "white community leaders" to gauge the white community's collective response. Describing "Korean thinking" and treating the 1.3 million Korean Americans as a uniform group that has informal "representatives" who speak for them is just sloppy.

—Neha Inamdar

Hot Air: Tracing the Roots of Global Warming Denial

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 5:11 PM PDT

If you're reading this, chances are you're well-versed in global warming, maybe even "eco-anxious." But to get inside the heads of those still in denial, there's a helpful piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books. Since it's an 8,000-word essay, here are some of the most provocative passages:

"It is strange and striking that climate change activists have not committed any acts of terrorism. After all, terrorism is for the individual by far the modern world's most effective form of political action, and climate change is an issue about which people feel just as strongly as about, say, animal rights."

"Unfortunately, the climate debate came along at a time when the Republican Party was wilfully embracing anti-scientific irrationalism. One way of telling this story – adopted by Kim Stanley Robinson in his novel Forty Signs of Rain – begins with the Scientists for Johnson Campaign, run by a group of eminent scientists who were worried about Barry Goldwater's apparent eagerness to wage nuclear war. Their campaign had a considerable impact, and when Richard Nixon got to the White House four years later he was convinced that scientists were a dangerously anti-Republican political lobby. Nixon shut down the Office of Science and Technology, and kicked the presidential science adviser out of the cabinet – an effective and still unreversed removal of science from the policy-making arena in the US."

"I suspect we're reluctant to think about it because we're worried that if we start we will have no choice but to think about nothing else."

He quotes James Lovelock: "I am old enough to notice a marked similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time."

He very briefly touches on the energy-industry's war on science: "The techniques in play were learned by the tobacco lobby in the course of the fights over smoking and health."

For Mother Jones coverage of global warming denial, read here, here, here, and here.