Tuesday, February 26, 2013

ATF Losing the War

The Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas, occurred twenty years ago today, February 28, 1993. This event, and the Ruby Ridge siege, which took place in Idaho six months earlier, August 21 -31, 1992, are perhaps the causes célèbres of the more fanatic of today’s gun rights advocates. The memory of these events and the myths that have grown up around them have hardened the stance of America’s “armed militia” against even the most reasonable of gun control measures, and further, they have made an enemy of the government organization assigned the mission of regulating guns and America’s gun industry, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Justice Department; an organization whose agents NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre referred to as “jack-booted government thugs.” This is unfortunate, because at the urging of the NRA, Congress has managed to hamstring the ATF and thereby make a mockery of America’s existing gun laws.

The ATF has been in a 40-year losing battle with the gun industry and its loyal supporter, the National Rifle Association. Today’s ATF is leaderless. Ever since 2006, when Congress, at the behest of the NRA, decided that the Senate should have the say-so in who ran the ATF, no nominee has been confirmed, not even George W. Bush’s nominee, Michael J. Sullivan. The NRA claimed Sullivan was “hostile to gun dealers.”

Sullivan’s nomination was blocked by a Senate hold placed by none other than Republican senators David Vitter, best known for his involvement in the 2007 DC Madam scandal, Larry E. Craig, arrested for lewd conduct (“I have a wide stance”) in a Minneapolis-St. Paul men’s room, and Michael Crapo, a professed Mormon, arrested for DUI in 2012 and whose driver’s license is still suspended, along with any action on confirming a permanent head of the ATF. 
President Obama nominated Andrew Traver to be director of the ATF but that nomination stalled in the Senate last year. Currently the ATF is led by B. Todd Jones as interim director. Obama intends to nominate him to lead the Bureau, but opponents are already lining up against him. In the meantime, he is doing the best he can with the little he’s been given to work with. As Erica Goode and Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the New York Times“The agency’s ability to thwart gun violence is hamstrung by legislative restrictions and by loopholes in federal gun laws...For example, under current laws the bureau is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions.”
The ATF must do its work trying to trace guns manually, because the NRA has been nothing less than belligerent in its opposition to the ATF entering the digital age.
And the ATF gets short shrift when it comes to funding. Again quoting Goode and Stolberg, "While other law enforcement agencies like the FBI have benefited from greatly increased budgets and staffing, the ATF’s budget has remained largely stagnant, increasing to about $1.1 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from just over $850 million a decade ago.”

The ATF has fewer agents today than it did 4 decades ago. According to Sari Horwitz, writing for the Washington Post, “The agency, which has a budget of about $1.1 billion, is charged with investigating gun trafficking and regulating firearms sales. However, it is able to inspect only a fraction of the nation’s 60,000 retail gun dealers each year, with as much as eight years between visits to stores.”

In an earlier post, I said that for the NRA,” the slaughter of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with the 6 adults who tried to protect them, was collateral damage, just as is the 1318 reported gun deaths so far since Newtown.”

That post was way back on January 28, 2013; all of twenty-eight days ago. We’ve had another 953 gun deaths since then, so the count now is 2271. Without an effective ATF, the count will keep going up and up and up, no matter what new laws are introduced.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Causes Gun Violence? The NRA Doesn't Want You to Know

An entire federal agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has as its mission the understanding and prevention of death and injury on our roads and highways. It spent $62.4 million in 2012 for this. Over the years, the federal government has invested billions to understand the causes of motor vehicle fatalities and, with that knowledge, has markedly reduced traffic deaths in the United States. It’s estimates that 366,000 lives have been saved through such efforts from 1975 to 2009.

Interestingly, we suffer about the same number of deaths from firearms as we do from traffic accidents (we’ll actually suffer more in 2012). So how much are we spending to prevent injury and death due to gun violence?

From 1986 to 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsored high-quality, peer-reviewed research into the underlying causes of gun violence. One of the findings; people who kept guns in their homes were not safer according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Instead, residents in homes with guns faced a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide and a 4.8-fold greater risk of suicide.

These findings were troublesome to the National Rifle Association and they moved to suppress the dissemination of the results and to block funding of future government research into the causes of firearm injuries.

Jay Dickey, former representative from Arkansa (R-AR4) served as the NRA’s point person in Congress and submitted an amendment to an appropriations bill that removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, the amount the agency’s injury center had spent on firearms-related research the previous year. This amendment, together with a stipulation that “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control,” put an end to most government-funded research on gun violence. For the NRA, it was a matter of, “If you can’t stand the answer, don’t ask the question.”

Mr. Dickey, now retired, has since changed his mind. The NRA hasn't.

Hadiya Pendleton, 15, shot and killed January 29, 2013

Are You Safer Because You Have Guns in Your Home?

The NRA leadership wants you to believe that having guns in the home makes you safer. The facts tell a different story. Guns in the home are far more likely to injure or kill family or friends than intruders. The data are so non-controvertible that the American Academy of Pediatrics, expressing concern for the number of children killed or injured by guns, recommended that pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from homes.

Demand a Plan!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For the NRA, Violence Begets Nonsense

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (David Keene is the President) has been much in the news since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. His message has been consistent throughout the outpouring of grief for the murdered children and the adults who tried to protect them, and for the demands for more effective gun control laws. Not only, "no," but, "Hell no!"

Mr. LaPierre says America's culture of violence is at fault for the cascade of mass shootings in America. He blames Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole for "blood soaked" movies and video games.

Mr. LaPierre laid the blame for the Newtown massacre squarely at the feet of the people who make schools gun free zones. He claims people intent on killing target such areas. Mr. LaPierre would have us arm teachers and school administrators.

In effect, Mr. La Pierre's answer to our violent society is to seed it with more guns. If we were experiencing an agonizing eruption of arson, Mr. LaPierre would, by the same logic, promote gasoline and blowtorches.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tank, a Tank! My Congressional Seat for a Tank!

Tank Storage at Sierra Army Depot
I live in the Tri-Cities, Washington, near Hanford. Our economy is dependent on the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent cleaning up the mess made here in the desert during the Manhattan Project. Some people think that's a big waste of money, but not a lot of those people live around here.

But speaking of big wastes of money, a drive of about 10-1/2 hours south of here on Highway 395 will take us to the vast, sprawling Sierra Army Depot, which lies in the desert, 60 miles north of Reno, Nevada, and to the story of wasting money that boggles the imagination.

The Sierra depot takes up 32, 292 acres of geography ideally suited for jack rabbits and lizards, if not humans, but it's also ideal for storing equipment the US Army can't use anymore. That stuff includes 3000 M1 Abrams Tanks. More than the 2300 tanks the Army has in operation.
Not surprisingly, the Army doesn't want anymore Abrams tanks and it doesn't want to spend any more defense dollars refurbishing the ones it has. But not so fast you Army slackers!

Certain members of Congress feel it's vitally important for the plant in Lima, Ohio, to continue producing tanks, and for General Dynamics Land Systems Division to continue its work in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and in various of its operations and business locations around the United States and indeed, around the world -- General Dynamics is a BIG corporation, with over $30 billion in business volume in 2012. And because corporations are people, GD has pumped millions into the coffers of its favorite congress people; people who just happen to be in states where it builds stuff, including stuff the military doesn't want.

The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity found that:
  • An Army proposal to stop work on the M1 Abrams tank to save $3 billion, has been blocked by the members of four key congressional committees.
  • Those lawmakers have received $5.3 million since 2001 from employees of the tank’s manufacturer, General Dynamics, and its political action committee.
  • The lawmakers have also been heavily lobbied by former committee staff members on the company’s payroll.
  • The company’s campaign donations spiked at key legislative milestones for the Pentagon’s budget bills in 2011 and 2012 (see the InfoGraphic here).
No less than the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, told Congress last year, “Please, no more tanks!” But 173 House members - Democrats and Republicans - sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to continue supporting THEIR decision to produce more tanks, and not listen to Army generals. Every House member from the Ohio delegation (see below), with the exception of Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, signed the letter. After all, what do Army generals know about the industrial base, i.e., pork, and buying elections?

Residents of Ohio are represented in Congress by 2 Senators and 16 Representatives.
Member Name
DC 202 -
FAX 202 -
Contact Form

Monday, February 11, 2013

DPRK Nuclear Test 2013


Vienna, 12 February 2013
“Today our monitoring stations picked up evidence of an unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The event shows explosion-like characteristics and its location is roughly congruent with the 2006 and 2009 DPRK nuclear tests. For now, further data and analysis are necessary to establish what kind of event this is. If confirmed as a nuclear test, this act would constitute a clear threat to international peace and security, and challenges efforts made to strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, in particular by ending nuclear testing.”

A total of 183 States, the vast majority of the international community, have signed the CTBT, underscoring their support for a definitive ban on nuclear explosions. Of these, 159 countries have also ratified the Treaty. To enter into force, however, the CTBT must be signed and ratified by 44 specific States. These States participated in the negotiations of the Treaty in 1996 and possessed nuclear power or research reactors at the time. Thirty-six of these States have ratified the Treaty, including the three nuclear weapon States - France, Russia and the United Kingdom. Of the eight remaining States, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United Stateshave signed the Treaty, whereas the DPRK, India andPakistan have not yet signed it.

A verification regime is being built to monitor compliance with the Treaty. Over 85 percent of the 337 facilities in the International Monitoring System are already in place, see interactive map. The Member States are provided with data collected by the monitoring stations, as well as data analyses prepared by the International Data Centre in Vienna, Austria. Once the Treaty has entered into force, an on-site inspection can be invoked in case of a suspicious event.

The North Korean nuclear tests on 9 October 2006 and 25 May 2009 were detected immediately by the CTBTO’s monitoring stations.
For further information on the CTBT, please seewww.ctbto.org – your resource on ending nuclear testing,
or contact:
Annika Thunborg,
Spokesperson and Chief, Public Information
T    +43 1 26030-6375
E    annika.thunborg@ctbto.org
M    +43 699 1459 6375    
I    www.ctbto.org

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

North Korea Dreams Its Future

This is so weird it's scary.
[From Live Leak]

North Korea, which is poised to conduct a nuclear test any day now, has posted a video depicting a US city resembling New York engulfed in flames after an apparent missile attack.

The footage was uploaded on Saturday by the North's official website, Uriminzokkiri, which distributes news and propaganda from the state media.

The video is shot as a dream sequence, with a young man seeing himself on board a North Korean space shuttle launched into orbit by the same type of rocket Pyongyang successfully tested in December.

As the shuttle circles the globe - to the tune of We Are The World - the video zooms in on countries below, including a joyfully re-unified Korea.

In contrast, the focus then switches to a city - shrouded in the US flag - under apparent missile attack with its skyscrapers, including what appears to be the Empire State Building, either on fire or in ruins.

"Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing," runs the caption across the screen.

"It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself," it added.

The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will "surely come true".

"Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us... never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory," it said.

The North is expected to conduct its nuclear test as a defiant response to UN sanctions imposed after its December rocket launch.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Good Letter by a Friend to Senator Patty Murray, WA-D

Dear Senator Murray,

I agree with you, preventing tragedies like the one in Newtown will take more than common-sense gun policies and enforcement. It will take action, and that action MUST start with you and your fellow Senators and Representatives.

There is absolutely NO reason for anyone in this country to own a semi automatic or automatic weapon. They have but one purpose – the destruction of as much life as possible in the shortest amount of time. The Military needs those weapons. No one else. Period.

Yes, they are fun to shoot, and those who want to fire them should be allowed to go to the nearest Armory where they are stored, pay an appropriate fee, and be allowed to fire them within the confines of the Armory rules and regulations. The weapons should not be allowed out of the Armory for any reason, unless ordered so, and in military hands.

It will not be easy for the laws to be written, and enforced, and it will take time, but we can do it. We have done it. We need to do it again! Writing and enforcing laws restricting the buying/selling of semi and automatic weapons, as well as the large capacity ammunition magazines in no way infringes on anyone's Second Amendment Rights.

I implore you --do the right thing and get on the bandwagon to get these tragedies stopped. Remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Take that step, and take it now. Please.