Ruth Marcus Sees President Obama as Obstacle to Oversight and Transparency

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sees the Obama administration as an obstacle rather than an enabler of “effective oversight and reasonable transparency; declining to publicly reveal operational details is understandable; refusing to reveal even its legal analysis of surveillance and other anti-terrorist activities is not.” [1] She also debunks the claim that Congress provides an effective check on abuses premised on national security interests: she points out that lawmakers must question intelligence officials without the benefit of expert staff; also, lawmakers, once briefed, are “captives of their classified knowledge: They cannot reveal what they have been told.”

Marcus also sees overreach in the order to Verizon, demanding “all call detail records” of all Americans. She notes that Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes intelligence officials to seek court orders when there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation.”

One of the prime arguments advanced by President Barack Obama for carrying out a massive surveillance program on U.S. citizens is that “If you see what I see” in regard to threats to American life, everyone will  understand why these measures to ensure the safety of all Americans were taken. Ever since the start of the Cold War, we U.S. citizens have been indoctrinated into the belief that the world is a very dangerous place. This indoctrination cannot be separated from the desire to justify a very high level of military expenditures and the building of a vast intelligence-gathering and surveillance empire.

Obama supporters contend that we are fortunate to have in office a president who uses his vast powers to conduct anti-terrorist operations moderately and judiciously, as a future president might use them much more aggressively; however, when you consider that Obama has greatly increased the number and the targeting of drone attacks; has become the first president to draw up “kill lists” of U.S. citizens; deployed U.S. Special Forces in 70 to 90 countries — according to the Special Forces chief — and set in place a surveillance program affecting all Americans, it seems very unlikely that a future president will engage in more extreme actions.

Some self-described or officially designated intelligence experts contend that Obama’s drone strikes and Special Forces military actions overseas are actually recruiting terrorists. Instructive in this regard is the statement scrawled on the inside of a boat in which the younger of two brothers implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings was hiding, revealing that he was extracting revenge for the carnege the U.S. was exercising on Muslims worldwide. This statement is an indication that Obama’s foreign policy may be fostering the very menace he claims he is working to reduce.

Ruth Marcus notes the transformation in President Barack Obama when she refers to his press secretary saying that Obama “certainy believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that his given.” Press secretary Jay Carney was referring to the answer of “no” that intelligence director James Clapper gave to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), when Wyden asked him if there was in existence a surveillance program affecting millions of Americans. Marcus concludes that it is a transition from “most transparent (Obama) to least untruthful Clapper). Quite a fall.” [2]

 

A brief comment on the George Zimmerman verdict: One of the jurors in the George Zimmerrman trial — with her identity concealed — was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The crucial passage in the interview came when Cooper asked her if the jurors ignored all that happened prior to the fight that ensued, culminating in the death of Treyvon Martin. The juror answered that the jurors did. She said they based their decision on George Zimmerman’s claims that his life was in danger when Treyvon got the better of him. Her claim was that the jurors believed the law compelled them to find Zimmerman not guilty. Neither Cooper nor the juror cited the Stand Your Ground law as the basis for the verdict but that must have been the case.

Malice must be proven in regard to a Second Degree murder conviction in Florida but malice does not apply to a manslaughter charge. Based on discussions of the manslaughter charge by trial commentators, state of mind does not seem to be a factor in manslaughter charges.

The interviewed juror said that on the initial vote, one juror was in favor of a Second Degree murder conviction; two were in favor of a manslaughter conviction and three were in favor of a not guilty verdict. After hearing all the evidence, half the six-person jury was in faovr of convicting George Zimmerman but they lost out to an assumption of Zimmerman’s state of mind.

What the various Stand Your Ground laws around the country set up is the situation in which an aggressor attacks a victim but if the intended victim gets an advantage in an ensuing struggle, the aggressor can kill lthe intended victim and claim self-defense.

Footnotes

[1] Ruth Marcus, “James Clapper’s ‘least truthful’ answer,” The Washington Post, June 13, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

 

 

 

Some Distressing Statistics on the Firearms Front

Justifiable homicides by civilians using firearms in US, 2006-10 – FBI (not including Florida).

In states that passed Stand Your Ground in the period; 2006-2010, justifiable homicides went up significantly in every year, starting in 2006. The nearly 160 in 2010 virtually doubled the 80 or so in 2005 (the FBI graph does not give exact numbers). Among the states without Stand Your Ground, the numbers actually went down from what they were in 2001, 2002 and 2003, which were all over 80; in contrast, from 2006 through 2010, the total never reached 80 — the low was about 60 in 2008, in contrast to about 150 in the Stand Your Ground states. [1]

A similar graph done by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for the years 2000-2011 — Stand Your Ground was passed in April 2006 — found that there were about 12 cases of justifiable homicide in the years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2006. The numbers were about 15 in 2003 and 2005, with 2004 registering about 8; however, in all years 2007 through 2011, the number never dropped below 36 and spiked to about 46 in 2011. [2] 

Trend Lines of Firearms and Population Growth

In the United States in 1994, there were about 200 million firearms for a population of roughly 260 million. Since the rate of firearms growth  is steeper than the rate of population growth, by about 2016 the growth lines will intersect and by about 2022 there will be many more firearms than people. [3]

The NRA, Stolen Guns and Expanding Gun Rights

In response to calls by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and other gun control advocates to stop straw buyer sales and close gun show loopholes, the NRA reached deep into its bag of tricky arguments to claim that such actions would make little difference, since most guns used to commit crimes are stolen — in fact, some 500,000 guns are stolen every year. [4] Yet, the NRA has not supported laws requiring gun owners to report when their weapons go missing. The NRA also does not support laws that seek to limit the sheer number of guns to be lost or stolen, as it fights hard to defeat proposed laws to limit gun sales to one customer per month.

The NRA can take some credit for the expansion of gun rights in very recent times. Oklahoma became the twenty-fifth state to allow people to carry guns openly and Virginia overturned its one-gun-a-month rule. USA Today reported in March 2012 that  a dozen states were considering  laws  that would eliminate requirements that residents obtain permits to carry concealed weapons. [5]

Footnotes

[1] “Up in Gunsmoke,” Mother Jones, July/August 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark Follman, “One Nation Under the Gun,” Mother Jones, November/December 2012.

[4] Jarrett Murphy, “Fear: The NRA’s Real Firepower,” The Nation, September 10, 2012.

[5] Ibid.

 

 

Exploding the Mythology of the Pro-Gun Zealots

In a mere two pages, Mother Jones magazine does a magnificant job of exploding much of the false information peddled by pro-gun zealots, committed to opposition to any and all restrictions on possession of firearms. (See Dave Gibson, “Hits and Myths,” Mother Jones, March/April 2013).

Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.  Fact-check: Law enforcement and the military own about 4 million guns: 3 million for the military and 1 million for law enforcement. Exact breakdown of weapon types unknown. Civilians own an estimated 310 million among roughly 80 million gunowners: a ratio of 79 to 1.

Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people — people kill people. Fact-check: The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114 percent higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Mother Jones supplies a graph showing gun ownership vs. gun deaths (by state), which puts Hawaii and Massachusetts near the bottom left of the graph and Wyoming and Montana near the top right.*

Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society. Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44 percent more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists and 77 percent more likely to follow them aggressively.

Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.

Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot someone in claimed self-defense have been linked to a 7 to 10 percent increase in homicides.

Myth #4: Good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys. Fact-check: There have been zero mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years.

Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer, Fact-check: For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around the house.##

43 percent of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm. In one experiment, one-third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a firearm pulled the trigger.

Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer. Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.

In one survey, nearly 1 percent of Amercans reported using a gun to defend themselves or their property; however, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50 percent involved using guns in an aggressive manner such as escalating an argument.###

A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater. 

Myth #7: Guns make women safer. Fact-check: 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.

A women’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.

Myth #8: “Vicious, violent video games” deserve more blame than guns. Fact-check: So said NRA executive vice-presidnet Wayne LaPierre after Newtown. So what’s up with Japan? Per capita spending on video games is $44 in the U.S. and $55 in Japan. Civilian firearms per 100 people is 88 in the U.S. and 0.6 in Japan. Gun homicides in 2008 were 11,030 in the U.S. and 11 in Japan.

Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners. Fact-check: More guns are being sold but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population. About 50 percent of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45 percent say they do. Overall, 35 percent of Americans own guns.

80 percent of gun owners are men. On average, they own 7.9 guns each.

Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws — we just need to enforce the ones we have. Fact-check: Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns  illegally.

Around 40 percent of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t rquire background checks. 40 percent of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them that way. 

An investigation found 62 percent of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.

20 percent of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has not had a permanent director for 6 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.

* When I was a village trustee in University Park, Illinois, I introduced a handgun ban modeled on the one in Morton Grove, Illinois. On doing research for my legislation, I learned from annual FBI graphs that violent crimes — murders, assaults and rapes — were much lower per capita in regions with relatively strong gun laws, such as the Northeast, compared with regions with relatively weak gun laws, such as the South and the Southwest.

** The two signature studies of home defense firearms in urban areas were done in Detroit and Cleveland. These studies found that for every intruder shot by a home defense gun, 4 to 6 family members or visitors to the home were shot.

### The claim that hundreds of thousands or even a few million Americans use firearms in self-defense every year is contradicted by annual FBI reports that show well under 1,000 documented cases of self-defense use of firearms.

Personal anecdotes of myself and likely numerous other people are in order here. I come from a family of 9 children and a very large extended family; also, I have lived in a number of states in my 78 years on this earth. I know of only one instance in which another person with whom I have had more than casual contact has made a claim of firearms self-defense: a fellow trustee on the University Park village board said she shot through her door at someone rattling her doorknob. She apparently didn’t hit anyone and it may have been a case of a drunk mistaking her home for his or hers. 

What is most striking to me in what has been presented above, is the 11 gun deaths in Japan, compared to the more than 11,000 in the United States. If the slogan that guns don’t kill people — people kill people — is true, than U.S. citizens most be far more violent that Japanese citizens.

Sources and more detail that provided above may be garnered at motherjones.com/gun-myths.

 

 

Stand Your Ground,Civilian Military Employment and High-End Campaign Donations

I. Stand Your Ground
Stand Your Ground laws exist in some form in 25 states. (1) They are an extension of the Castle Doctrine, which gave protection for homeowners defending their homes against intruders. A person claiming self-defense is not required to retreat from a threat before opening fire; the burden is on prosecutors to prove that a claim of self-defense is not credible; and, finally, the shooter has immunity from civil suits relating to the use of deadly force.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which was put in the national spotlight by the gunshot death of Treyvan Martin, extended the Castle Doctrine to public spaces — parking lots, parks, and city streets. City and county governments are barred from banning guns in public buildings; businesses can’t forbid employees to keep guns in company parking lots; and doctors can’t warn patients about the hazards of gun ownership. (2)

Two years after the enactment of Stand Your Ground in Florida, the number of “justifiable homicides” by civilians more than doubled and nearly tripled by 2011. (3) FBI statistics show that justifiable homicides doubled in states with Florida-type laws and remained flat or fell in states that lacked them. (4)

II. Mitt Romney’s Military Additions and Military Civilian Employment
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney proposed to add $2 trillion to the Pentagon budget by commissioning six new ships each year for the Navy; adding even more F-35s to the 2,400 currently scheduled for future production; and increasing military troop strength by 100,000. Personnel costs are a major oomponent of Pentagon spending.

Not only does the United States account for over 40 percent of world military spending, but fully 64 percent of all 4.4 million employees on the federal payroll are already in the uniformed military, the Department of Defense, Veteran Affairs or the Department of Homeland Security. (5)

III. Big Donors Rule the Campaign Roost
Politico reported that 2,100 people had given a total of @200 million to the 2012 campaign by August 2012. This is $52 million more than the combined donations of the two and one-half million voters who had given $200 or less. By August, at least 33 American billionaires had each given $250,000 or more to groups whose aim was to defeat President Obama. (6)

Footnotes

(1) Mother Jones, July/August 2012.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

(4) FBI graph – 2000-12.

(5) Eric Alterman, “President Romney?” The Nation, August 27-September 3, 2012.

(6) Jane Mayer, “Schmooze or Lose,” The New Yorker, August 27, 2012.