Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lionel Ritchie

Obama's Iraq Withdrawal Speech

President Obama is the greatest political speaker I've ever heard, and that includes J.F.K., whom I happen to be old enough to have heard live, and of course many times since his assassination. I found the following comments about the troops both sincere and satisfying. What do you think? Are these comments adequate? Are they sincere?
I also want to acknowledge all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That includes the Camp Lejeune Marines now serving with - or soon joining - the Second Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq; those with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force in Afghanistan; and those among the 8,000 Marines who are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. We have you in our prayers. We pay tribute to your service. We thank you and your families for all that you do for America. And I want all of you to know that there is no higher honor or greater responsibility than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.

One of the impressions I had during the campaign was that he is sincere, at least more than your typical politician. I have had some doubts since his taking office, but I'm still holding onto hope. Whenever a politician speaks like this, naming hard dates and clear goals, he leaves himself dangerously open to failure and criticism. It's bold. If his intentions are not sincere, then saying things like this would be nothing short of foolhardy. What do you think?
As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

After those comments he went on to talk about the "transition period" and our being "advisors" in Iraq. I thought, "Oh, brother, here we go again." But, the President went on to make it right. He continued with these remarks.
Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.

He told the troops they would receive a pay raise, earning an explosion of cheers and applause from the Marines in attendance. He went on to describe the heroic deaths of two young Marines who died to protect their comrades. The crowd was hushed, tears welling up. Overall, it was one of his best speeches. What's your opinion? Did you think he was sincere to name dates like that, or foolish? What was your overall impression?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Eric Thompson vs. Paul Helmke

Here's a debate which aired sometime after the Virginia Tech shooting, pitting Eric Thompson, on-line gun dealer against Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign.

What possible motivation could Mr. Helmke have other than what he says? Does anyone really think he's lying when he says, "when you put more guns into a situation, whether it's a home, a city or a college campus, you're going to have more gun violence?" Don't you think he believes that? I certainly do. And what's more, I agree with it.

In fact, I was saying exactly that before I knew who Paul Helmke was. I think we're both really saying things we really believe, with no sinister or ulterior motives, really.

On the other hand, we have Mr. Thompson, who said in a carefully worded comment that he was "warmly received by many of the students." Although that may be true enough, I find it hard to believe that the loved ones of the 32 dead kids would have "warmly received" him. What do you think?

Do you think Thompson is a bit cold-blooded in claiming that his company didn't help provide the gun but simply sold a legal product? Do you have any problem with that?

Helmke said, "We make it too easy for dangerous people to get guns." Do you agree or disagree?

Please leave a comment.

The New Abolitionists

Diann Rust-Tierney, the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty posted a wonderful article on The Huffington Post. In it, she made an interesting connection between the Abolition of Slavery movement of old, and the Abolition of the Death Penalty of which she is the leading spokesperson.
The late A. Leon Higginbotham, the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, elaborated on the death penalty double standard in his book, "In the Matter of Color, the Colonial Period." If a slave killed his master or another white person, or raped a white woman, the penalty was automatic death. If a white person killed or raped a slave, the punishment might be imprisonment or a fine. Most crimes by whites against slaves went unpunished.

Recently, when we discussed this issue, I mentioned how Ms. Rust-Tierney had helped me realize something. The idea that capital punishment is wrong just doesn't work for many people. For me, it's the chief reason for opposition, but for those who don't agree with that, the racial disparity in its application, the possibility of executing an innocent person, as well as the exorbitant cost involved can be persuasive. What do you think about that? If you believed capital punishment is acceptable, could you be swayed by these other considerations?

In the HuffPo article, there's a Martin Luther King quote, which I found delightful. Of course I would like it because it perfectly supports my view. The death penalty is just plain wrong.
In the 20th Century, death penalty abolition was embraced by major civil rights movement figures. Ebony Magazine quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957 as saying, "I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime -- rape or murder included. God's concern is to improve individuals and bring them to the point of conversion. Even criminology has repudiated the motive of punishment in favor of reformation of the criminal. Shall a good God harbor resentment? Since the purpose of jailing a criminal is that of reformation rather than retribution - improving him rather than paying him back for some crime that he has done -- it is highly inconsistent to take the life of a criminal. How can he improve if his life is taken? Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God."

What's your opinion?

1-gun-per-month Law Stalls in NJ Senate

NJ.Com reports on the failure to pass the Senate vote of a law which would have limited handgun purchases to one per month in New Jersey.
The bill was held by its sponsor, Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson), after it received 20 votes, one shy of the 21 needed for passage. No Republicans voted for the bill, drawing a rebuke from Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex).

Why do you think the vote was so clearly divided along party lines? I thought there were Democrats who are pro-gun, as well as Republicans who are anti.
Cunningham and other supporters argued the bill would cut down on "straw" buyers who purchase guns for criminals. The bill (S1774/A339) would allow the purchase of up to 13 guns a year, one every 30 days.

New Jersey would be the fourth state to adopt such a limit. Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, had pushed for the bill earlier this month, saying it was "close" to approval.

On the surface, that seems to make perfect sense. I've never doubted that gun flow from the legal to the illegal is a very real and significant part of the problem. But, the antagonists of this bill point out that in New Jersey there are already so many restrictions and requirements to purchase a gun legally, the chances of straw purchases taking place in large numbers are very remote.

I agree with that. So what could be the explanation for all this hoopla?

Beans 71 tells us in his comment.
Everybody knows that straw buyers by their guns in bulk from states like GA and TX where you dont need a permit to buy a gun and you can buy as many as you want with no waiting period, just a quickie background check.

I don't know if Mr. Beans 71 is a cop or a criminal, but he sure seems to know what he's talking about. The goods come right up I-95 and onto the Jersey Turnpike in the trunks of cars. Newark and Camden are adequately supplied, business as usual.

So where does that leave us with New Jersey legislation? I'd say my former home state can be proud to be one of the strictest in the nation for gun control. If Georgia and Texas and all the other gun-friendly states had similar laws, the flow of guns into the criminal world might be diminished to the point where the police could do their jobs.

What do you think? Would the one-gun-a-month law have hurt legal gun owners in New Jersey if it had passed? Is there anything to that anti-gun question: "who needs to buy more than one gun a month anyway?"

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Out-of-control Police or Defensive Gun Story

On the wonderful site called the brain police there's a post up that's just too good to resist. It's got one of our favorite themes, the out-of-control police. But it turns tragic when one of our other favorite theses comes in, defensive gun use.

I don't want to make light of such a terrible situation, but what's the lesson here? Should the poor woman have had heavier fire power? What would have happened if she had had no gun at all? I'll tell you, she'd probably be alive and those cops would be in a lot less trouble than they're in right now.

What's your take on this bizarre story?

Assault Weapons Ban - Here We Go

Thanks to Jeralyn at Talk Left I read this story on ABC News.
The Obama administration will seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

"As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons," Holder told reporters.

Of course for some people, any excuse to bash the President is a good one. I've already heard his being criticized for having said during the campaign that he supports the 2nd Amendment Rights and is now pushing a gun control agenda. Didn't he always qualify his support of gun rights by saying things like we will have "common sense" laws? That's what I remember.

It seems that some of the most vociferous critics among the pro-gun crowd are the same ones who pointed fingers at liberals for criticizing Bush for his various disasters. I'm seeing a lot of that double standard lately. Is that a peculiarly conservative thing?

What do you think about this type of restriction? Would this inconvenience law-abiding gun owners too much? Is their main problem with this the fear that it's just the beginning of gun bans in America? What could be the next to go?

Do you agree with the Attorney General that a ban of this type can fall within the purview of the Heller decision? Do you think the Obama administration plans to go further with additional bans? Do you think they should?

Please leave a comment.

Gun Flow into Mexico - Part 2

The New York Times has it on the front page today because the George Iknadosian trial is about to begin. He's the licensed gun dealer in Phoenix who's accused of supplying guns to the Mexican cartels. I'll bet, during the trial he says he's not responsible for the violence. What do you think about that? Does the gun dealer bear some responsibility for what people do with his product? What if he knows, like in this case, that his weapons are going to gangsters? I've always said that all pro-gun people bear some of that responsibility, but what about a guy like this who is a bit closer to the bloody action than, say your average Joe who goes to the shooting range on Saturdays?
Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of what I keep hearing from the gun guys. The gun laws used to be really strict in Washington D.C., yet the gun violence was out of control. They never mention that right across the river in Virginia there are extremely lax laws. The other one is Chicago. Same story, tough gun laws, bad crime, but what they don't readily admit is it's a short drive to Indiana, which like Virginia, is a gun-friendly state.

It seems to me on an international scale, we have the same situation with Mexico and the U.S.
What is more, the sheer volume of licensed dealers — more than 6,600 along the border alone, many of them operating out of their houses — makes policing them a tall order. Currently the A.T.F. has about 200 agents assigned to the task.

Here's the other thing. Pro gun apologists like to portray themselves as responsible and law-abiding citizens, which I'm sure is truly the case on the whole. But it took months of blood, sweat and tears on this blog to get a reluctant agreement on the fact that gun folks are just like any other folks, some of them have the kinds of problems that don't mix well with guns.

It seems like it might be a tad worse when discussing gun dealers. Over 6,000 have set up shop along the Mexican border, as Iknadosian did, to do what? Have they flocked there in such numbers to provide a legitimate service to the locals? Obviously not. In this situation opportunistic greed has done its part to worsen an already dreadful situation. That is, unless you feel like FatWhiteMan who said, "Who really cares what happens in Mexico anyway? That's their problem."

What's your opinion? Do you care what happens in Mexico? Do you think there's something wrong with American gun dealers profiting from the Mexican drug wars? Do you think the kind of licensed gun dealer who would have no scruples about supplying guns to gangsters across the border would be the type to conduct clean and respectable business in all other areas?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Death Penalty Legislation

We've discussed the idea of accomplice liability in the Lillo Brancato case. Down in Texas they call it the Law of Parties. When a murder takes place the lookout man or getaway driver is equally guilty, that's the idea. From The Daily Texan Online, hat tip to TChris at Talk Left.
Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, presented a bill Tuesday that would end death penalty sentences under the Law of Parties.

Dutton said there have been at least 12 people executed under the Law of Parties and possibly as many as 20. He said he has seen cases in which a convicted murderer had been released from prison while members of his party were still on death row.

Twenty-five other states have the Law of Parties, but Texas is the only state that allows the death penalty for defendants convicted under the Law of Parties.

The Talk Left article pointed out that while Texan legislators are trying to restrict the use of the death penalty, in Virginia the exact opposite is taking place. Fortunately Governor Kaine has promised to veto the bill. From the Washington Post article:
The General Assembly once again passed a bill that would eliminate the triggerman rule, making criminals who participate in a murder eligible for the death penalty even if they didn't actually commit the killing.

And once again the governor has pledged to veto it.

But the vote on Tuesday has cast a spotlight on an unlikely opponent of expanding the use of the death penalty: Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, a conservative law-and-order Republican from Fairfax County who hopes to become attorney general.

Senator Cuccinelli II is a supporter of capital punishment who even favors its expansion in certain cases, but who opposes the Triggerman Rule because he "said juries could be too easily swayed by the heat of a capital prosecution, overlooking nuances of guilt to punish someone whose intent was perhaps ambiguous." Good for you, Senator.

What's your opinion? Is the general direction of the country moving away from capital punishment? What do you think the Obama administration will do with Capital punishment during these next years? Is it an important issue, in light of all the other problems, in your opinion?

Please leave a comment.

Wikipedia, Sure Font of Truth

On the wonderfully opinionated blog, Opinione, I found this very useful essay on Wikipedia, and the internet in general.
Some examples of altered wikipedia entries altered from computers with IP addresses linked to wikipedia entries critical of them include the wikipedia page on Wal-Mart from the original posting on wikipedia, which states: Wages at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at other retail stores. Founder Sam Walton once argued that his company should be exempt from the minimum wage. A computer with a Wal-Mart IP address was found to have changed it to, The average wage at Wal-Mart is almost double the federal minimum wage (Wal-Mart)

Other examples given had a more conspiratorial flavor, the CIA and FBI of course as well as the site for Dow Chemical.

I personally don't worry about this too much because I treat everything I read on Wikipedia and the rest of the internet just like I treat any statistics I come across. If it doesn't mesh with my pre-conceived ideas, out it goes. It's obviously biased.

What's your opinion? Are there internet sites you trust to deliver unspun truth? Or is it all suspect?

Switzerland to Banish Guns from Homes

In beautiful Switzerland they're preparing for a referendum concerning the famous gun laws. Service in the militia is compulsory for men aged between 19 and 31 and in between call-ups they store their weapons at home. CNN reports.

A coalition led by the country's Social Democrat party and the Greens has collected nearly 120,000 signatures to force a national referendum on whether the weapons should be stored at military bases.

The coalition of 74 groups says the weapons are involved in too many suicides and murders in the country and tighter controls are needed.

Switzerland's armed forces consist of just a few thousand permanent full-time staff, with the rest essentially a militia.

Perhaps it would be easier to discuss this issue using another country as the backdrop. I found it very interesting that the Swiss coalition behind this initiative seems to think the availability of guns causes an increase in suicide and murder rates. I guess the Brady Campaign and I aren't the only ones singing this song. What do you think about that?

Another interesting aspect of this story is that in 2007 the law changed, banning the storage of ammunition in homes. Doesn't that beg the question of how, if there's no ammunition allowed, do so many people use these weapons to commit suicide and murder? I guess the miscreants had some ammo left over from before the 2007 law, or perhaps bullets aren't that hard to come by. What do you think?

Removal of the right of part-time soldiers to keep their weapons at home is not the end of it. The dreaded registration of all guns is what the coalition is really after.

Green lawmaker Josef Lang said more than 1.5 million unused weapons were kept in Swiss homes.

Lang said their presence "at the heart" of the population could not be justified.

He said a national register had to be created to keep track of the weapons, something police had long been seeking.

Lang said the weapons had to be "banished" from homes.

Is "banished" the same as "banned?" Maybe that's our problem in America, we're using the wrong term for what to many people is a common sense operation. Josef Lang says quite simply, keeping all those guns in homes "could not be justified."

What's your opinion? Is the Swiss move to "banish" guns from homes some sinister movement akin to treason, as David Codrea says? Do the Swiss lawmakers who are striving to make these changes motivated by anything other than what they say, to reduce suicide and murder? What do you think?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Billy Joel on Relationships

In the introduction to this song in a more recent concert, Billy said it's misoginistic but that doesn't mean he didn't know someone like this. I find the images in this song to be wonderful metaphors for all difficult or complicated relationships. How about you?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan

Unconfirmed reports say that as many as 600 "enemy combatants" are being held in detention at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The BBC reports on the Justice Department ruling which came down last Friday stating that these prisoners have no constitutional rights. (h/t to Jeralyn at Talk Left)
The move has disappointed human rights lawyers who had hoped the Obama administration would take a different line to that of George W Bush.

On the ACLU site there's even stronger talk.

"The Obama administration did the right thing by ordering Guantánamo closed. But a restoration of the rule of law and American ideals cannot be achieved if we allow 'other Gitmos' to be maintained around the globe," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Detainees at Bagram, like at Guantánamo, are under U.S. control and custody. It is therefore the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure that basic fundamental rights apply there. As its review of detention facilities continues, we strongly urge the Obama administration to reconsider this position."

What's your opinion? Should prisoners in military detention centers receive the same human-rights treatment as their counterparts do in the States? Do you think this Bagram development indicates some back peddling on the part of Obama's team? If you were the President, wouldn't you make sure to steer clear of this kind of problem?

Does anyone, besides me, know what the motto of the Department of Justice is, and more importantly what it means? This is at the heart of the problem. When politicians take there marching orders from on high, whether that be "Domina Justitia" or God Himself, terrible excesses can be easily justified.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Race and the Death Penalty

I've never really appreciated the anti-capital punishment arguments which say it's too costly or that innocent people may be executed or that it's disproportionately applied to minorities. My focus has always been on the fact that it's morally wrong.

Recently I've had an exchange of e-mails with Ms. Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the NCADP (The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty). One thing Ms. Rust-Tierney wrote really opened my eyes.
There will always be people who believe the death penalty is not morally abhorrent -- but these people can come to see and agree with us that the death penalty should be repealed-- either because it is more trouble than it is worth or because the other harms that it causes outweigh any measure of good they believe the death penalty provides.

The following video really captures the idea of harm outweighing good. It closes with a wonderful quote from the former Supreme Court Justice, William J. Brennan, Jr.

"We remain imprisoned by the past as long as we deny its influence on the present."

The Oscars

Once again this year, I've succeeded in not seeing even one of the big films. Partly it's because I live outside of the United States, but more than that it's just that I have an extremely hectic lifestyle which rarely permits an evening at the movies.

I follow the stories though and was pleased to see Sean Penn win best actor. Not only is he one of the great talents working in films today, in my opinion, but the homosexual theme of the film made it a sort-of liberal cause that I support.

But, for me, Mickey Rourke is the greatest. On The Huffington Post site I found this story about his winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor. His acceptance speech is a wonderful display of the down-to-earth, likable character that he is. Here's the video and below that, his shattering performance in The Pledge.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another Young Shooter

CNN reports on another tragic story in which an 11-year-old boy shot and killed the fiancée of his father who was eight months pregnant.

Police say the boy shot Kenzie Marie Houk, who was eight months pregnant, once at pointblank range in her farmhouse in western Pennsylvania.

The boy, whose name was withheld by CNN because he is a juvenile, was charged with one count each of criminal homicide and homicide of an unborn child in the death of Houk, 26, Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo told CNN.

In an odd twist, CNN withheld the boy's name because "he is a juvenile" but the State of Pennsylvania will charge him as an adult. In PA, over 10, you're an adult.

On the Greenwich Diva site, we learn that the boy's name is Jordan Brown. This site, by the way is a treasure trove of crime stories; I've bookmarked it.

As I was reading the story on CNN, I thought it was another example of what we've been discussing a lot lately. I'm always interested in the availability of guns and how that factor can make the difference. Thinking this was yet another example, I was shocked and chilled when I read the following piece of information.

The weapon was a youth model 20-gauge shotgun, designed for use by children, that belonged to the boy, according to investigators.

The "youth model," I suppose is smaller and lighter and must have an easier trigger pull. I'm just guessing, of course, because not one of my pro-gun friends ever mentioned this to me. In our numerous discussions about kids and guns, when we've talked about "gun-proofing" the kids instead of "kid-proofing" the guns, no one ever mentioned this fascinating little tidbit of gun lore. And I guess I have only my own naiveté to blame. What good-ole-boy, macho, home-protecting, animal-shooting, 2nd Amendment Rights believer worth his salt wouldn't want his ten-year-old to have his very own shotgun, you know, the one "designed for use by children."

Needless to say, I find this abominable. I now realize there must be many households in which the pre-teen boys have their very own deadly weapons and only rarely does one of them blow away the future step-mother, but I find it sad and pathetic and peculiarly American.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.