Saturday, April 18, 2009

After Warren Jeffs, Abuse Still Rampant

Arizona State University's on-line news site published a very disturbing article by Melanie Kiser about the abuse that continues still in Colorado City, Arizona. This is the home of Warren Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. On November 20, 2007 he was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison and has begun serving his sentence at the Utah State Prison. The charges against him included sexual conduct with minors and incest. Wikipedia has a good overview of Jeffs' story.

It has now become clear that with Warren Jeffs' incarceration, the abuse which is endemic in the polygamous system has not ended in Colorado City.

Among the peculiarities of the town are birth defects unheard of anywhere else in the world, a female life expectancy of 32 years, black trucks that follow outsiders around everywhere and a baby cemetery, said Rep. David Lujan, D-15, in a lecture on Monday night at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

“Colorado City is a town with a population of less than 10,000, yet they have a baby cemetery that extends over two acres,” Lujan said. “Just an inordinate number of baby graves for a town that size. But that’s not even the most stunning thing. You see a lot of graves that are either dug up or unmarked, and so many where the headstone indicated they died years ago, in 1997 or something, yet there is fresh dirt on the grave.”

Also present at the lecture at Arizona State University was Flora Jessop.

Flora Jessop grew up in Colorado City, Arizona and was raised in a polygamous family, with two mothers and twenty-seven siblings. After years of abuse, she fled her family and faith and became one of the few women to get out alive. Today she works as a social activist helping other abused women and children escape polygamy.

Jessop provided some books as examples of what the community’s children learn in homeschooling. Lujan read aloud from one titled, “Sisters Are Eternal Friends,” which he said refers to sister-wives (other wives of a woman’s husband).

“These sisters do not have bad tempers. They are always sweet to one another,” one page said. Another stated, “Father is the master of the house.”

“Keep sweet no matter what — it’s a matter of life and death” is a motto in the FLDS, she said. “And they mean it. You cannot have emotions.”

The competition to be perfect and the favorite causes constant arguing between sister-wives, Jessop said.

“I didn’t come out of polygamy hating men — I came out of polygamy hating women,” she said. “It took me 16 years after getting out of Colorado City before I could trust a female. That’s why you don’t see a more united front.”

Girls raised in the FLDS cannot be friends with their birth sisters, have girl friends or share confidences, she explained. They are taught from birth that their only friends are their sister-wives, and after marriage, even private contact with one’s own mother is forbidden, she said.

“So often people think that Warren Jeffs is behind bars and all is well in the world,” Lujan said. “But the abuse continues.”

What's your opinion? Is this a legitimate set of religious and social customs that the government has no business meddling in? Where do we draw the line? When does child abuse and domestic violence behind closed doors become everybody else's business?

If polygamy were practiced among consenting adults, would it be wrong? In theory, couldn't it be done properly?

How widespread do you think this is? Colorado City is a town of 10,000. There are other towns, mainly smaller, but there are probably hundreds of them throughout Utah, Arizona and Colorado. So, it's fairly widespread, don't you think?

I'll tell you what I think. As much as I find government intervention distasteful, and only would suggest it in the most urgent matters, I believe the government is justified in trying to put a stop to these abuses, first through legislation and then if necessry through forceful intervention.

When we spoke about Jeffs before, I said I thought he and his friends were using their religion to justify child abuse, like in the marrying of a 12-year-old and in the general abuse of underage women, as described above by Flora Jessop. I think the same kind of abuse continues in these isolated communities. I suppose the temptation is too great for men to resist, but whatever the explanation, I believe it's time it was stopped.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

The Young Phil Spector

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Temptations and Much Much More

Assault Weapons Ban - Back on the Agenda

CNN reports on the comments President Obama made in Mexico yesterday.

Speaking alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Obama said he has "not backed off at all" on a campaign pledge to try to restore the ban. It was instituted under President Clinton and allowed to lapse by President George W. Bush.

"I continue to believe that we can respect and honor the Second Amendment right in our Constitution -- the rights of sportsmen and hunters and homeowners that want to keep their families safe -- to lawfully bear arms, while dealing with assault weapons that, as we know here in Mexico, are used to fuel violence," Obama said.

Sorry, but didn't Holder just tell us that it was all on the back burner? What could explain such mixed messages? Do you think the President is saying what the Mexicans want to hear while in Mexico and saying what we (some of us, anyway) want to hear while at home?

Perhaps the messages are not so contradictory. In Mexico, Obama made no reference to a timetable. Maybe the economy and other issues will continue to take precedence, like Holder said. This commitment from the President is reassuring at least in knowing that the whole idea is not abandoned.

Mr. Calderón had some interesting things to say too.

Calderón said that the link between Mexican drug violence and the U.S. ban on 19 types of military-style semi-automatic rifles -- which lapsed in 2004 -- is clear.

"From the moment the the prohibition on the sale of assault weapons was lifted a few years ago, we have seen an increase in the power of organized crime in Mexico," Calderón said.

He said that more than 16,000 assault weapons have been seized in the crackdown on drug traffickers, with almost 9 in 10 coming from the United States.

The famous 90% comes up again. The last time Helmke used that figure, the whole gun-toting world went wild with accusations of lying and deceit. It turned out he was quoting the ATF. I wonder where the president of Mexico got the same figure and why he's announcing it to the world. Maybe he's doing so because it's accurate.

Another interesting thing was mentioned. The lapsed assault weapons ban would ban "19 types of military-style semi-automatic rifles." That sounds extremely specific and very clear. So, what was all that talk about anti-gun people not knowing the difference between fully-automatic and semi-automatic? What was all that ridicule about people who didn't know what a "gun shroud" was?

To me it sounds like much of what the pro-gun crowd have been throwing into the mix is diversion and confusion. The Assault Weapons Ban, contrary to what they would make you believe, is a clearly written piece of legislation that had a greatly beneficial effect on the U.S. and its nearest neighbor, Mexico. The real problem that gun folks have with it is, I imagine, that it might take away some of their favorite toys.

What's your opinion? Among those 19 prohibited weapons are there any which are necessary for self protection or for hunting? When something like that goes into effect, what happens to all the assault weapons already in the hands of private citizens? What happens to all the ones in gun shops right now?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Richard Pryor in the Gun Shop

Kayson Helms - Summary Execution for Armed Robbery

We had a discussion yesterday about the case of Kayson Helms who was shot dead trying to rob an A.A. meeting in Columbia South Carolina. What I don't understand is the seemingly hard attitude on the part of the pro-gun crowd. Basically they all say the same thing: "If a criminal is stupid enough to show a gun and one of us is around, he deserves whatever he gets. He asked for it."

Now, that may be perfectly true, the "asking for it" part, but what is it with that attitude, that macho, tough-guy talk? It's usually followed by referring to the dead criminal as a "mutt" or a "goblin." What kind of talk is that? I'll tell you what kind. This is typical pro-gun, us-against-them mentality. It's the pro-gun guys against the anti-gun liberals. It's the pro-gun guys against the criminals. I say the pro-gun crowd are as anti-social as the criminals. It's difficult to find one of them who can take criticism and disagreement without resorting to personal attacks and insults. I believe they make the society worse not better. Here's an example.

When an armed robbery takes place how often does it result in loss of life? When an armed robbery takes place and one of you concealed carry guys is present, how often does it result in loss of life? The answer to the first one is very low; the answer to the second one is very high. That's why educated and intelligent anti-gun pro-safety experts recommend that cooperation with the robber is the best bet.

I know what the gun crowd says, what about this and what if that happens, well I suggest it's not the variations and possible twists on the scenario that worry them. What worries them is that the idea of allowing a thief to take what he wants, even if it means that statistically your chances of survival are greater, is contrary to their macho thinking. It's absolutely opposed to their don't-tread-on-me mentality. It's about their feeling like real men, regardless of the true benefit to themselves and those nearby.

What's your opinion? I thought the last Anonymous comment was quite compelling, the one about the gun having been put in the face of the writer's daughter and that Kayson got just what he deserved. The only problem is that even staunch supporters of the death penalty usually don't recommend death for robbery.

What do you think about that dilemma we talked about yesterday? What should the responsible gun owner do, shoot first and worry about the morality later?

What's your opinion.

Roman Coliseum Illuminated for New Mexico

They call the Roman Coliseum "ground zero" for the death penalty abolition movement. Every time a State in the U.S. or a country in world abolishes capital punishment they hold a ceremony at the Coliseum. from Albuquerque has the report including a video.

Gov. Bill Richardson is in Rome where he attended a special ceremony at Rome's Colosseum Wednesday night.

The ceremony honored the Land of Enchantment for abolishing the death penalty.

The governor traveled to Rome with Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan.

"My state is going to be honored with the lighting of the Colosseum," Richardson said. "And it's a great feeling of pride for my state and also because my state has done the right thing in repealing the death penalty."

Hosting the ceremony is the Community of Sant'Egidio, a prominent international lay organization of the Catholic Church that promotes dialogue, peace and social justice.

The practice of lighting the Coliseum was begun by Sant’Egidio in 2002 when the International Day Cities for Life-Cities against the Death Penalty was launched every year on the anniversary of the first abolition of the death penalty in the world by a state, the Granduchy of Tuscany on Nov. 30, 1786. A special lighting of the Coliseum decided by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the City of Rome, took place in December 2007 when the General Assembly of the United Nations called for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty as a first step toward abolition.

What's your opinion? Do you agree that the United States and the world in general is moving away from the death penalty? Do you think that's a good thing?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Man Shot Dead in A.A. Meeting, reporting the news from South Carolina has the story about the would-be stick up artist who lost his life when he tried to rob an A.A. meeting in Columbia. Weer'd tipped us off to this fascinating story in his comment about Phil Spector.

A New Jersey man has been shot and killed at an Alcoholics Anonymous center in South Carolina in what police say was a thwarted robbery.

The State newspaper reported that Columbia police said Sunday that a visitor to the AA center shot and killed the 18-year-old man who was trying to rob members there.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said Kayson Helms of Edison, N.J., was shot in the neck, abdomen and chest.

Columbia Police say Helms walked into the meeting at 2015 College Street, the Acoa Club, at 11 p.m. Saturday night with a gun and demanded whatever those at the center had and was shot.

It's fascinating for several reasons. As Weer'd pointed out, New Jersey is a state with very strict gun laws, while South Carolina is very lax. The fact that the shooter came from Edison, New Jersey and was only 18 years old means he could not have had the gun legally, at least that's Weer'd's take on it. Off the top of my head, I wonder if he could have been a resident of South Carolina, maybe his grandma lives there. As such, would he not be able to own a gun legally? Isn't that a person's "right" in states like SC?

Another fascinating aspect of this incident is the end result, which even I cannot dispute meets the criteria for a righteous shooting. But it casts a big light on all the so-called defensive uses of firearms the pro-gun crowd are always touting. I'm not completely unaware of the dilemma which these urban warriors, the ones with Concealed Carry Permits face in situations like this. To determine what constitutes lethal threat and therefore merits the kind of response young Kayson Helms received must be very difficult. Assuming the armed citizen is not just looking for a chance to do some "live target shooting," which I believe is a big assumption because many of them are doing just that, how can he tell if a criminal deserves the ultimate response? Well, I suppose, and correct me if I'm wrong, you experts, if a criminal displays a gun he's fair game.

And there's the rub, as Shakespeare said. Obviously not all criminals who brandish a weapon intend to use it. Since it's usually not possible to distinguish the ones who are from the ones who aren't, armed citizens are allowed, nay, encouraged to blow them all away. They do that to make the rest of us safer.

Well, I have a problem with that. The unidentified killer of Kayson Helms, although perfectly within his "rights," is no less a killer. Had he not been there for his A.A. meeting, in which they pray together to the Higher Power and share with each other about surrender to God's will; had he not been there armed with a concealed gun at an A.A. meeting, young Kayson would have done a penny-ante stick up and been on his way, probably to shoot dope in some Columbia alleyway later that night, and no one would have died. The overwhelming majority of stickups result in no loss of life. The tiny percentage that do, are sometimes the result of a so-called defensive shootings like this or some other form of resistance.

How many pro-gun guys revel in this kind of story? How many of you refer to people like Kayson Helms with pejorative names, de-humanizing him in order to more easily legitimize your actions. It's all over the internet and it's not pretty.

What's your opinion? Do you agree that it's a tough judgment call at times to determine if the criminal has lethal intent? Do you feel it's too dangerous to take chances and guys like this should be shot dead?

Do you think there's a conflict in bringing a weapon to an A.A. meeting? It's similar to bringing one to church, isn't it? Do you think that's OK?

Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Phil Spector Goes to Jail

CNN reports on the conviction of Phil Spector on 2nd Degree Murder charges in the death of actress Lana Clarkson more than six years ago. Spector was practically a household name, originally for his career as a music producer, but more recently for his well publicized trial in 2007 which ended in a hung jury. After O.J. and Robert Blake, it was beginning to look like the big-shot misogynists of Hollywood could get away with murder, but not Phil.

Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler declined to allow Spector to remain free on bail pending sentencing, citing Spector's years-long "pattern of violence" involving firearms.

"This was not an isolated incident," Fidler said, noting Spector's two previous firearm-related convictions from the 1970s. "The taking of an innocent human life, it doesn't get any more serious than that."

In closing arguments at the retrial, prosecutor Truc Do called Spector "a very dangerous man" who "has a history of playing Russian roulette with women -- six women. Lana just happened to be the sixth."

I suppose Phil Spector could be considered just another American exercising his "right" to have guns, his freedom to protect himself. At some point in his history, I suppose, he was one of the law-abiding gun owners. Then he started crossing the line, abusing women, using weapons to abuse women. Six years ago it went way too far.

What does this have to do with lawful and responsible gun owners? An awful lot, is what I say. The fact is the Phil Spectors of the world represent a significant percentage of the gun owning public. You can quibble about how much is "significant," whether 20% or 1%, but the fact remains when we're talking about a group as large as 50,000,000 and you take a percentage of that group, even a small percentage, you've got a lot of dangerous people.

Surely, you cry, they aren't all as dramatically criminal as Phil, playing Russian Roulette and such. I say that's true, many aren't nearly as colorful and inventive as old Phil, but many are worse. The point is it's wrong for gun owners to keep shrugging their shoulders and saying, "It's not my problem, I obey the laws."

If I were a gun owner, I swear I'd be doing everything within my power to limit the availability of guns. As a gun owner, I'd be cooperating with the gun-control movements to find ways to prevent these all-too-common abuses. Above all, I'd stop pretending that my responsibility ends with the maintenance and handling of my own personal weapons. It extends far beyond that, into the society which I have helped to shape by my attitude towards guns and gun control.

What's your opinion? Is it fair to say that gun owners share in the responsibility of gun violence? I'm really talking philosophically, but even practically I'd say they share in the guilt. Take a guy like Phil Spector and all the others who are, let's say, less than responsible and prudent in the handling of their guns. Do you think guys like that keep their actions a total secret? Are they completely isolated from all other gun owners? I don't think so. What about the shooting range where they practice? How about the gun store where they buy weapons and ammunition. How about their shooting buddies? How about their drinking buddies, with whom they talk, brag even? How about the people, usually other gun owners, who witness dangerous and irresponsible gun handling and say nothing?

What it adds up to is for every offender among the gun owning public, you've got another 5 or 10 gun owners who know about the improper activity but let it go. It's not just the Spectors and the Poplawskis and the Adkissons, it's many others too. Those headline grabbers did not act in a vacuum. Shame on you, shame on you all.

I realize the above descriptions are totally inapplicable to the majority of lawful gun owners. But, that brings us back to the basic ideas of gun availability contributing to daily avoidable gun deaths and the never-ending action of gun flow - guns flow from the good guys to the bad, and good guys themselves go bad. The more people support so-called gun rights the more they contribute to these dark forces in American society.

That's the way I see it. How about you? What's your opinion?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Obama Gets Gun-Shy

It seems like bad news has been developing for gun-control advocates over the last days. Newsweek highlights the situation in an article entitled, Obama Gets Gun-Shy. It examines what appears to be a backing-off on the part of the administration, a backing-off of the campaign promise to reactivate the assault weapons ban.

When we discussed the Pittsburgh shooter, Richard Poplawski, who killed three policemen using his personal arsenal including at least one AK-47, we didn't know much of the background that has come out now.

He wasn't your run-of-the-mill malcontent. A white supremacist, he frequented the chat rooms of racist Web sites, where he posted screeds about a "Zionist occupation" bringing the country to economic ruin. But Keith Savage, manager of the Braverman Arms Co., where Poplawski got many of his guns (but not the AK-47, Savage claims), says nothing seemed amiss when he filled out Form 4473—the standard questionnaire for federally required background checks. The gun-shop staff had no way of knowing, for instance, about Poplawski's January 2005 discharge from the Marines for what Lt. Josh Diddams, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman, tells NEWSWEEK was a "psychological disorder" (he had assaulted his drill sergeant during basic training, says Poplawski's mother). They probably also didn't know that Poplawski's former girlfriend had gotten a restraining order against him, later in 2005, after he grabbed her by the hair and threatened to kill her.

Any ex-marines reading this might agree with me that not only is assaulting the drill instructor during boot camp extremely rare, it's one of the greatest indicators of mental illness I've ever heard of. But, the real question is what does this say about the supposed background checks that are being done? If a psychological discharge from the service and the assault charges that led to it didn't raise the red flag, shouldn't the civilian assault on the girlfriend have done so? Where exactly is the background check system failing?

The thrust of the article is the White House's silence on the problem. It seems reinstating the assault weapons ban has taken a back burner to some of the other pressing problems facing the new President, first among them, I suppose, is the economy. Meanwhile, here's something you don't read every day.

In recent years the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also lifted virtually all restrictions on imports of foreign-made assault weapons, permitting a flood of cheap Romanian, Bulgarian and other Eastern European AK-47s to enter the country, according to gun-control groups. "There's been an absolute deluge of these weapons," says Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center.

Is this what the gun enthusiasts refer to as freedom? Is this what they really want for America, a dramatic increase in the availability of guns, I'm only guessing that if the AKs are pouring in, pistols of every description are too. Is this freedom?

Why would the administration make an about-face on this issue? The political pressure must have been enormous.

In February, Holder called for restoring the federal ban on assault guns to help curb the flow of weapons to the Mexican cartels. As soon as he made the call, however, the NRA launched a fierce lobbying campaign—and 65 House Democrats signed a letter vowing to resist any gun-control measures. In the Senate, Montana Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester sent their own warning. "Senators to Attorney General Holder: Stay Away From Our Guns," read the press release.

Within days, White House aides instructed Justice officials to stop talking about the assault-weapons issue, according to congressional and administration officials who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities.

I would imagine the arms manufacturers and importers have their own lobbyists but are happy to let the NRA take the spotlight. In this way a very vocal and powerful minority influences government to the detriment of all.

To be fair, I wouldn't want to claim that your average NRA member wants more gun violence or that he is heedless of the problems. But, I do suggest he is like a tantrum-prone 5-year-old boy who will do or say anything so mommy and daddy don't take his toys away. That kind of self-centered thinking is unconscionable in adult people who are supposed to be reasonable. And it is reason itself that cries out saying something is very wrong in The United States and more guns will just make it worse.

What's your opinion? Do you think it's a bad sign that Obama is abandoning one of his promises for political reasons? Do you think the elected officials, like those 65 Democrats who signed the letter to the President opposing gun control, are mainly old men who are diminishing in numbers? I read once that the demographics on hunters indicate that. Is there hope that over the next 10 or 20 years the percentages will shift? What do you think?

How does education figure into this? It does seem like the States which suffer most from inadequate schools are the same ones that vote Republican and support gun rights. What's the connection there? It seems to me that intelligence and reasonableness are part and parcel of the anti-gun mentality while the opposite traits too often seem to describe the pro-gun characters. There are exceptions on both sides, of course.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Judgment Night

Earl tipped me off to this one a while back. I forget what he said, but I'll say this: this is one of the best suspenseful sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kinda movies I've seen in a long time.

What's Wrong With New Orleans?

Once again our friend Microdot was on the case, alerting me to this headline story. But when I went to check it out, look what else I found.

Terrytown killing spree unfolded in apartment of slain boy's mother 7:00 PM

Woman stunned with Taser, jailed after tussle with cops; Also 'executed' were teen-aged baby-sitter, her toddler; Wounded 11-year-old girl in stable condition.

Man shot dead Saturday night on St. Louis Street 10:36 PM
Father of slain toddler mourns a young life cut short 10:15 PM
Covington man's body found in Tchefuncte River 9:53 PM
Ethical issues often arise with New Orleans subcontractors 9:47 PM
Brutal killing of cab company owner unnerves St. Tammany drivers 9:39 PM
New Orleans woman accused in prison heroin conspiracy 9:03 PM

Is this a typical day in New Orleans? I haven't followed their news enough to know. Maybe this is typical news in every major city in America but this particular site reports it better. What do you think?

I see there's much more than gun crime here. We've got at least one knife murder, and of course there's the heroin and crack cocaine elements. What does it all mean? Should cab drivers be armed? Should the regular citizens? Is that the immediate answer?

The root problems seem to be criminal violence and drugs. What can we do about that? Is arming more of the good guys the immediate answer, like some of our friends keep saying? I can certainly understand that response. I must admit, if I lived there or had to do my work there, I might consider it myself. Would that make me part of the problem? Would I then be contributing to the maelstrom of gun violence that seems to be escalating all across America?

What's your opinion?