Cultural change may be solution to US gun crimes
By Wang Yong | December 14, 2013, Saturday | Print Edition
Editor’s note: The following is an exclusive interview of Shanghai Daily opinion writer Wang Yong with Tom Diaz, author of The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It.
Q: The September 16 shooting carnage at the Washington Navy Yard is the latest proof of what you call “a reign of terror” by gun activists who raise the false flag of constitutional rights. Will it push the US to better regulate guns?
A: It’s wishful thinking to suppose that any single incident – no matter how horrific – will inspire significant change in gun regulation in the US. No one in their right mind likes these incidents or accepts them as normal. But, as in so many other areas, Americans are dramatically divided on what to do about it, and so we do nothing.
There are two strongly held and opposite points of view.
One side understands that the proliferation and types of guns available is the crux of the problem, not only of mass shootings but of daily “routine” shootings all over the country. Even “good” people with access to guns commit terrible crimes with them.
The other side is committed to the ideological and emotional view that the problem is “bad” people, not guns.
It so happens that these sides are in rough national political balance right now, which favors the pro-gun side because inertia makes change virtually impossible at the national level.
The hope is that, over a longer term, there will be real and widespread cultural change that will favor stricter gun control. In other words, we will reach a “tipping point” that will break the deadlock.
There is good evidence that this may be happening, as younger and more culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse communities within the US “grow into” political power. Guns do not have the same emotional and ideological appeal to these groups as they do to the old line white male population, whose grip on American politics is clearly fading.
Q: What are Obama’s chances and challenges if he really wants to make the US a safer place?
A: I have not seen and do not expect to see substantial change under President Obama. He certainly has made powerful speeches. He would clearly like to go in the correct direction.
That said, however, two factors work against administration-driven change.
One is the reluctance of the political “experts” in the Democratic party to take on tough gun control legislation.
The influence of this view reaches to the highest levels in Congress and the White House, and includes those who might otherwise be thought to be “progressive” or “liberal.”
It’s safer to keep one’s head down. Mere politics prevents bold action, and ultimately empowers the National Rifle Association and the gun industry it represents.
The other is the stark national political division that I referred to earlier.
The president has only so much “political capital” to spend, as the recent budget and debt limit confrontation showed.
It took an enormously disciplined and steel-nerved will to face down those who had locked down the government.
Yes, the president (and for that matter, the Democratic leaders in Congress) could in theory decide to make gun control an all-or-nothing fight.
But given everything that needs to be done just to keep the US functioning, I doubt that this fight will be engaged.
Q: Do you campaign for an outright ban on individual gun rights, or for better regulated individual gun rights?
A: The facts of gun violence dictate certain answers. If we really want to reduce gun violence of all types, we must limit access to guns. So, yes, I favor strong restrictions on access to and possession of certain types of guns: high-capacity semiautomatic pistols, semiautomatic assault weapons, and very high caliber (armor-piercing) sniper rifles.
Unfortunately, the “gun control movement” in the US has bought into the idea of pursuing much more limited goals.
This is because, to a large extent, the Democratic political establishment does not want an abrasive fight. The phrase “gun safety” has come into political favor and “gun control” has lost favor.
There is nothing “wrong” with most of the incremental change being pursued. Better background checks, trigger locks, and other hardware changes all would have some small effect on gun death and injury. The facts, however, are quite clear.
The preponderance of the hurricane of gun violence in the United States comes from so-called “legal” guns and is committed by people who won’t be deterred by gadgets like trigger locks.
In my view, the diversion of energy to these palliatives is a serious mistake.
The proliferation of assault weapons in the US could have been cut short as late as 1994 if the Congress and then-President Bill Clinton had acted forcefully and intelligently. Instead, they compromised on a weak law that has since expired. Now we see the results at elementary schools, movie theaters and other public places.
Q: You write: “Every year, more Americans are killed by guns in the United States than people of all nationalities are killed worldwide by terrorist attacks.” As terrorist attacks are threats to human rights, would you also call gun crimes an abuse of human rights, especially in the case of racial hatred toward non-white immigrants?
A: I have no doubt that some of our domestic gun violence is driven by fear, anger and hatred that has its roots in some of the racial and ethnic theories that have stained our history. It certainly fuels the desire to own military-style guns.
However, one must be cautious and specific in how one articulates the case for calling gun violence a case of human rights abuse. To me, the key is the extent to which the government per se is complicit in the abuse, and I see little of that in our domestic problem.
The three greatest examples of human rights abuse within the United States that I would cite all involved overt government complicity: the genocide of the Native Americans, the institution of slavery and so-called “Jim Crow” laws that followed its formal end, and explicitly racist national laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and subsequent “quota” restrictions on immigration.
So far as domestic gun violence goes, governments in the United States can be faulted for passivity politically, but I can’t think of a case in which the government has overt responsibility for or encourages the violence. There is, however, a different case to be made for the gun violence that occurs in other countries because of our government’s lax controls on the export and smuggling of guns.
The citizens of Mexico, Canada and other countries all over the world have suffered because of these weak export and law enforcement policies and practices.
There are many things that the federal government in particular could have done and can do today to effectively prevent much of this traffic, but chooses not to do for pragmatic reasons. That is complicity.
Guns from the United States not only take lives and injure innocent people, they have provided infrastructures through which criminal and other non-government organizations can confront legitimate governments and deprive ordinary people of the free exercise of their human rights.
Frankly, it amazes me that none of these affected governments has made an aggressive case in international courts or elsewhere based on the theory that the United States is directly complicit in these abuses. Every now and then someone talks about it, but no one really does anything.
Q: You call for the creation of a comprehensive reporting system regarding gun crimes. Has there been progress to that effect since the publication of your book?
]A: I favor not only a comprehensive data system about gun “crimes,” but also about gun violence of all sorts, which would include suicides and incidents of “road rage” and “domestic violence,” which many people think is somehow different from cases in which someone sets out to use a gun to commit another crime and kills or injures a victim.
Only a little progress has been made, largely at the direction of the president. The NRA and the gun industry have a vested interest in preventing such information from being gathered, much less made public.
Ignorance, for them, is power.
Big, huge A+ for the President Obama and Vice-President Biden for their strong start out of the blocks today on a comprehensive gun control package.
Confident, tough, and smart. Sure, you can natter about what might have been in or out, but this is laying down a super package.
President Obama nailed it: this is not going to happen unless the American people demand it.
Start demanding! Don’t let the midgets on the Hill kill it.
The year was 1861. An enlightened French nobleman was visiting a Russian nobleman on the latter’s vast estate. The two were out for a morning ride. The Frenchman pointed to a cluster of serfs—poorly clothed, filthy, ignorant, and doomed to a brutish life little better than that of the animals among whom they lived and bred.
“But, my dear Alexey,” the French nobleman asked the Russian nobleman. “Don’t you care for the health of your serfs?”
“Of course, I do care, my dear André,” replied the Russian noble, flicking his riding crop impetuously as if offended by the very question. “I care very much that they be healthy enough to dig potatoes, but not so healthy as to dig my grave before I am ready to die.”
The challenge of what to do about gun violence in America presents two questions of fundamentally different natures.
The questions are so radically different that they compel answers as different as the comparison of Hyperion to a satyr (see, http://voices.yahoo.com/literary-analysis-classical-allusions-shakespeares-8833327.html) or of the sun to the moon.
The Public Health and Safety Question
The answer to the first question is so thoroughly answered by an impressive body of research—even though hindered by sabotage from the National Rifle Association and junk scholarship from the gun industry, for which the NRA is a mere potty-mouthpiece—that having to ask it at all ought to be embarrassing to any educated American.
This body of careful assembled scientific knowledge points unerringly to the sea of guns in which we are awash as the problem. Not video games. Not movies. Not secularism. But guns. Guns. (See, e.g. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/; http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/; http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/ficap/. )
Guns, and particular types of guns, are the vector, the microbe, the bacillus, the virus, the disease that has infected America with an epidemic of needless, senseless, relentless death and injury.
The proliferation and easy availability of guns not only empowers the mentally ill, the mass shooter, and the criminal. They thrust guns into the hands of law-abiding but angry husbands and boyfriends, fatally curious children, self-appointed vigilantes, the despondent, the angry driver, and the bitter extremist.
The dark, rotting specter of that infection stalks our homes, our schools, our shopping malls, our places of worship, our hospitals, our workplaces, our highways, our restaurants, our courts, our parks, our police stations, even the White House, our Capitol, and our military bases. Its putrid breath wafts over every one of us every single day.
No other advanced—I dare say it, civilized—nation in the world tolerates this madness.
The Political Question
The Moloch’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School (see, http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/dec/15/our-moloch/) put starkly to the newly and powerfully reelected President of the United States the greatest domestic political question any President has faced since Abraham Lincoln decided what to do about the secessionist threat.
I do not make that comparison lightly. Insurrectionists today dance to theology from the NRA, around the totem of military-style guns from the gun industry.
Barack Obama handed over this profound political question—inspired by the unimaginably torn flesh and blood of Innocence itself—to Joe Biden, a crown prince among America’s putatively progressive political “gun control nobility.”
Vice-President Biden is today “all about” how he personally wrote and passed the monstrously ineffective 1994 assault weapons ban, as part of the epically bloated and pork-laden Clinton Crime Bill. (See, e.g., Peter Baker, “Biden Is Back for a 2nd Run at Gun Limits,” The New York Times, December 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/us/politics/newtown-task-force-returns-biden-to-gun-control-arena.html?_r=2&.)
Why anyone would actually want to claim authorship of that abortive piece of legislation—Dr. Frankenstein could have assembled a more effective assault weapons ban using random scraps from the burial notices of those from whom he assembled his monster—passes understanding. Perhaps Dr. Biden doesn’t really understand his law’s fatal flaws, or perhaps he is counting on the fact that not one out of ten thousand Americans does either. In either case, what Joe Biden does not so freely share is the fact that in the darkest days of the final conference negotiations over that 1994 Crime Bill, when President Clinton’s senior staff member George Stephanopoulos was skulking around the conference meetings on Capitol Hill, urging conferees to dump the assault weapons provision to “save” the Crime Bill that Clinton desperately needed as an example of something—anything—the President could get done, Sen. Biden was encouraging his fellow conferees to do just that. What kept the assault weapons ban in the crime bill was the unflinching resolve of the late Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, whose position was resolute: no assault weapons ban, no crime bill. (Sen. Dianne Feinstein was equally resolute, but she was not a conferee.)
This gun control nobility are the career politicians—and their respective trains of career advisers, well-paid consultants and pollsters, and assorted opportunistic camp followers—who have similarly gamed the question of what to do, and mostly what not to do, about guns and gun control to their political benefit over the last several decades.
Yes, gamed. Gambled. Played at.
All of them trade on their putative (but usually shockingly thin) knowledge of guns and of the real drivers of the gun violence problem, and on their professed paternal concern for you and me. They appear in an endless procession of Sunday morning shows and at controlled media events.
But, as the continuing and growing torrent of gun violence in America conclusively demonstrates, what has been good for this gun control nobility has not been equally good for America. Like the nobility of imperial Russia, the gun control nobility have lurched through a series of clever retreats and cynical concessions, all designed to ensure that they stay in political office to do…what?
This political tactic of always skulking around the edges of the gun control battlefield but never stepping up to the fight has actually been reduced to doctrine and received wisdom in Washington by the likes of such appeasement-oriented organizations as Third Way, founded and run by a gaggle of career political functionaries, liverymen of the career political nobility.
“Not too liberal…not too conservative…but right in the middle.” That’s the third way. Okay, so maybe staying in the middle third means that some more kids will have to die, but we’ll still be in office to do…what?
The barons of gun control have stayed in office. But they have failed to protect Americans and, in a profound and real way, America itself.
Put aside the mass shootings and the daily dead. Their hand-wringing, self-serving equivocation, fainthearted piety, and backward-stepping has enabled the growth and arming of a significant insurrectionist paramilitary faction in America. The country is in vastly more danger of armed political violence than it would have been had they screwed up the will and the courage to act decisively years ago.
Thus, the Prospects of a Sell-Out Look…Good
There are really only two forces that count on this issue in political Washington. One is the power of the office of the President of the United States. We have seen what Barack Obama chose to do with that, although it must be said that he still makes a fine speech.
The other is the National Rifle Association.
There is no in-between moderating force.
Either the President goes to war with the NRA and mobilizes the nation for a long fight comparable to that of, say, the civil rights struggle, or the NRA wins.
The so-called gun control movement—or “gun safety”, or “gun violence prevention,” or whatever the evasive semantic fashion of the day happens to be—is not a force to be reckoned with.
It is a prop.
These nubbins of candle light vigils and teddy bear mounds have no boots on the ground. None. None of them can reliably deliver that vital spark of local influence that drives the votes of the hard-eyed men and women who run Washington. Many decision makers in Washington secretly believe that the “groups” are basically useless. I would murmur that not all are useless. The Violence Policy Center—where, yes, I worked for 15 years—has contributed a virtual online encyclopedia of knowledge about the gun industry and its depredations. (See, http://www.vpc.org/.)
The rest of these nubbins can fend for themselves in the court of public opinion.
Thus, reality. Unless and until a real grass roots gun control movement is created in the form of one that can deliver the same thing that the NRA delivers day in and day out—not campaign money, but local clout to be heard by politicians—all the calculations of the third or fourth or fifth way, and all the marches of a million this and a million that (truly, more like a few thousand this and a few thousand that) do not amount to a heap of toasted nubbins on the scale of hard, cold power.
Unless, of course, the President stands up and takes off the gloves for a real fight.
For an easy guide to 10 ways to tell the American people have been sold out..again…on gun control, see the companion post here http://tomdiazgunsandgangs.com/2013/01/14/ten-ways-to-spot-a-sell-out-on-gun-control/.
The Ten Ways
Vice-President Joe Biden will within days flash his beautiful teeth (only his orthodontist knows for sure what his barber already knows) and deliver the conclusions of the ponderous machinery of his task force (or whatever it’s officially called).
One would like nothing so much as a powerful legislative drone strike against the NRA and the industry it represents as the opening round in a long and relentless war against gun violence. But the NRA is not crouched in the dust behind a hill in Yemen. What we are most likely to see is a frizzante of accommodation, an artfully-contrived punch, served up as the gun control nobility whirl about in the kind of grande valse brillante that passes for action today in Washington, DC.
Here are ten signs—among many that one could state—to watch, in order to know at the end of the day whether you have been sold out once again by the political nobility of gun control.
For an analysis of the deeper questions and politics of gun control, see the companion post here http://tomdiazgunsandgangs.com/2013/01/14/the-road-from-serfdom-the-politics-of-gun-control/.
As Congress, civilian leaders, and the public demand more accountability from service members and our military leaders, the Washington politics can involve cannibalistic witch-hunting at the highest levels. The pressure to be perfect, the one-mistake service, can take its toll on all members of the armed forces; from the airman and seaman to the service chief himself.
John J. Sproul, Major, USAF, Research Report, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, CSAF V. CNO: Core Values and Their Career Ending Impact (April 1998).
The summary of the career of Admiral James O. Richardson at the Naval Historical Center’s photo page is crisp and about as scrubbed of controversy as one can get: “Beginning in January 1940, he was Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, holding that position during a stressful period marked by the fleet’s forward deployment to Pearl Harbor. Relieved by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel in February 1941, he served at the Navy Department into 1942.”
What it leaves out is one salient detail of that “stressful period” and its impact on Admiral Richardson’s career. In October 1940 Richardson told President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that continued deployment of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor was a bad idea for a number of reasons. This military advice did not go down well with the Commander-in-Chief, who had his own plan and his own impression of himself as a naval strategist. With months, Admiral Richardson was replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, on whose watch the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Day of Infamy, occurred on December 7, 1941.
Adm. Kimmel is said also to have not been enthusiastic about the fleet’s basing, but having got the message, he saluted and sailed on.
The rest is history.
One is sure that the matter was infinitely more complicated than that tiny summary. But what is not complicated is that — as is the case in all publicly known government disasters — the final stage of every project is the hunt for someone to blame. This involves a lot of perfect hindsight mixed with the bowel-chilling perception of participants (think the 3:00 a.m. phone call) that this could be their own personal career-ender.
Thus, one is sure that some very angry arguments have been going on — at the “highest levels” — of Washington’s military and civilian establishment. Cynics would say that the risk of summary beheading is usually in inverse proportion to one’s rank. Agents and investigators are expendable. Generals and directors are not.
In that context, the following post from Strategypage.com about the case of Ft. Hood’s apparent-jihadist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, seems to combine just the right film-noir-like mix of real-world experience and knowing resignation. The full text is about the use of statistical techniques for predicting terrorism, but the excerpt here deals (speculatively, to be sure) with the problems inherent in Major Hasan’s case for everyone involved:
Ignoring The Threat Does Not Make It Go Away
November 11, 2009: Even before September 11, 2001, counter-terrorism experts sought to use statistical techniques to predict where the next big terror attack would occur….
In the United States, these techniques still suffer from a shortage of data (terrorists.) With enough data, you can test your model by successfully predicting the past, and then turn it on the future. But with insufficient data, you have to rely on human judgment. This is subject to other factors, like the political atmosphere. An example of this was the recent terror attack in Fort Hood, Texas. There, a Moslem army officer, shouting “God Is Great”, murdered 13 soldiers and civilians, and wounded over thirty others. The major had previously been detected by the counter-terror intelligence system (both via emails to known terrorists and his public calls for attacks on non-Moslems.) When the FBI (which handles counter-terror intelligence inside the U.S.) urged the army to do something, the army declined. The FBI did not press the matter. One can imagine army commanders, confronting what the FBI described as a “potential” terrorist, realizing that in the current political climate, disciplining (or discharging) a Moslem army officer would endanger the careers of the generals involved in such a decision. So nothing was done, until the terrorist made his move.
It should be noted that at this writing the Department of Defense denies that anyone in the military establishment above the grade of an investigator detailed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (sound effect here: chop, chop) was ever informed of the information that had been developed about Hasan.
The buck is thus in furious circulation now.
The Los Angeles Times has an excellent piece today (Thursday, November 12, 2009)(“Fort Hood suspect’s contact with cleric spelled trouble, experts say,” by Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer). Here are relevant excerpts:
The radical cleric contacted by accused Ft. Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan has such unmistakable connections to past terrorist plots that his e-mail exchanges with the American should have triggered an all-out investigation, a number of officials and experts now believe
Awlaki has left a well-documented trail of influence in a string of recent terrorism cases in North America and Europe.
“It seems that the American investigators had difficulties detecting signs of worrisome conduct,” Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a veteran French anti-terrorism judge, said in a telephone interview. “It may also be that, because of the respect for religion, and the excesses by the U.S. services in recent years, that today there’s a tendency to be too prudent — perhaps less vigilant.”
Bruguiere is a giant in counter-terrorism, having been instrumental in the cases — among many others — of Carlos the Jackal and the Libyan mid-air bombing of UTA Flight 772 over the Sahara Desert in 1989 with the loss of 170 lives.
Stratfor.com has a thoughtful and informed analysis here. This is a relevant excerpt, but the whole piece covers many more angles:
So far, the Hasan shooting investigation is being run by the Army CID, and the FBI has been noticeably — and uncharacteristically — absent from the scene. As the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, the FBI will often assume authority over investigations where there is even a hint of terrorism. Since 9/11, the number of FBI/JTTF offices across the country has been dramatically increased, and the JTTFs are specifically charged with investigating cases that may involve terrorism. Therefore, we find the FBI’s absence in this case to be quite out of the ordinary.
However, with Hasan being a member of the armed forces, the victims being soldiers or army civilian employees and the incident occurring at Fort Hood, the case would seem to fall squarely under the mantle of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). From a prosecutorial perspective, a homicide trial under the UCMJ should be very tidy and could be quickly concluded. It will not involve all the potential loose ends that could pop up in a federal terrorism trial, especially when those loose ends involve what the FBI and CIA knew about Hasan, when they learned it and who they told. Also, politically, there are some who would like to see the Hasan case remain a criminal matter rather than a case of terrorism. Following the shooting death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah and considering the delicate relationship between Muslim advocacy groups and the U.S. government, some people would rather see Hasan portrayed as a mentally disturbed criminal than as an ideologically driven lone wolf.
Despite the CID taking the lead in prosecuting the case, the classified national security investigation by the CIA and FBI into Hasan and his possible connections to jihadist elements is undoubtedly continuing. Senior members of the government will certainly demand to know if Hasan had any confederates, if he was part of a bigger plot and if there are more attacks to come. Several congressmen and senators are also calling for hearings into the case, and if such hearings occur, they will certainly produce an abundance of interesting information pertaining to Hasan and the national security investigation of his activities.
Round and round it goes. Where it will stop, nobody knows.
André Birotte, Jr.
LAPD Inspector General
Mr. Birotte joined the Office of the Inspector General in 2001. In 2003, he was appointed Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Department by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. Mr. Birotte and his staff of approximately 32 employees, which include lawyers, professional auditors and former law enforcement executives, are responsible for conducting and overseeing LAPD internal investigations and audits to ensure compliance with both LAPD policies and mandates from the Federal Consent Decree. Mr. Birotte holds an undergraduate degree from Tufts University and a J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law. Following law school, Mr. Birotte worked as a deputy public defender in Los Angeles where he represented indigent clients charged with felony and misdemeanor offenses in several phases of criminal proceedings including preliminary hearings, pretrial conferences, arraignments and over 30 trials. He then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he investigated and prosecuted numerous violent crime, fraud and narcotics trafficking cases. Thereafter, he joined the Quinn Emanuel law firm, where he represented clients in white-collar crime and commercial litigation matters.
LAPD Inspector General’s Internet Website
Los Angeles is buzzing this week, awaiting a new police chief. But another nomination, perhaps just as important, is in the wind.
Last week the Los Angeles Times floated a trial balloon for the likely nomination of Andre Birotte, Jr., the Los Angeles Police Department’s Inspector General, to become the next United States Attorney for the Central District of California (Los Angeles and much of Southern California).
LAPD’s inspector general likely choice for U.S. attorney in L.A. Andre Birotte Jr. emerges after months of speculation as the presumptive nominee to be appointed to the vacant post by Obama.
The news of Birotte’s pending appointment prompted praise from diverse quarters. Smart, moderate, and soft spoken, Birotte has successfully navigated the shark-filled waters of L.A. politics and come out strong with his integrity intact.
Social justice maven Celeste Fremon headlined her WitnessLA social justic blog: “Andre Birotte Jr. 4 US Attorney? Please, Let it Be So!”
Here are her thoughts on Birotte:
I’ve got my fingers firmly crossed that Andre is indeed the nominee. Honestly, I can’t think of a better choice for LA’s U.S. Attorney. He’s respected by a broad spectrum of people in and around law enforcement.
Plus, with basically no real power in his position as inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Department, he has still managed to have a real influence in helping the LAPD transform itself into a department that the city can once again be proud of.
The LAPD command staff holds him in high regard. At the same time, Andre made a point of reaching out liberal-leaning law enforcement watchers like me—not to garner press attention or advance any agenda—but simply to talk about issues.
Andre is one of those rare people with a truly nuanced intelligence who seeks to understand any problem before him at a deeper and more complex level than what the surface presents.
And, hey, the guy also has a good sense of humor—mandatory in this business, in my humble opinion.
Let’s hope he’s our new U.S. Attorney.
Bruce Riordan, one of Birotte’s former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s office and now Chief, Gang Division, Los Angeles City Attorney, likewise knows Birotte well and offered this assessment:
I have known and worked with Andre for more than a decade. First as an Assistant United States Attorney, then as a Deputy Inspector General, and finally as the Inspector General for the LAPD. In every capacity in which he has worked he has served with real distinction. He has an innate sense of fairness, a strong moral compass and he is also decisive. If he is indeed nominated and confirmed for the position of United States Attorney, then it is my firm opinion that the District will see not only a very good man, but also a very good leader. The District will be in good hands.
If Birotte lands the job, he’ll have his hands full from the first minute. In addition to pending cases handed off from former U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien, he’ll have to lead the way in one of the nation’s most prestigious — and hottest — law enforcement environs.
With the generally positive reviews of all the finalists for chief, and that spectrum of opinion supporting Birotte’s likely nomination, things should be looking up for the City of Angels on the law enforcement front.
Yeah bring me champagne when I’m thirsty.
Bring me reefer when I want to get high.
Yeah bring me champagne when I’m thirsty.
Bring me reefer when I want to get high.
The Obama administration’s new marijuana prosecution policy has effectively “legalized” the burgeoning “medical marijuana” drug distribution system. The new Obama/Holder drug prosecution guidelines reward criminality and dump a major policy and law enforcement problem into the laps of states already reeling from the effects of the recession. As The New York Times puts it today (“States Pressed Into New Role on Marijuana”):
Some legal scholars said the federal government, by deciding not to enforce its own laws (possession and the sale of marijuana remain federal crimes), has introduced an unpredictable variable into the drug regulation system.
Do not be confused. The so-called “medical marijuana” system is not that Utopian system of legally produced, quality-monitored, tax-generating, legal distribution of licit drugs that potheads and organized Libertarians (there is so infrequently a difference, how is one to know?) enthuse about.
It is rather lipstick on a pig — the same old criminals are selling the same old contaminated illegal drug through a quasi-legal, bastardized system of outlets forced onto unwary or complaisant governments by a relentless and quintessentially dishonest campaign appealing to cheap “compassion.”
For an engaging look at what is really going on in Los Angeles — and by fair inference elsewhere in “medical marijuana” high country — please watch this short video featuring Los Angeles Special Assistant City Attorney David Berger. Among other points Berger makes are these: (1) there is no way the “pot shops” (lipsticked-up “dispensaries”) could be moving the quantity of weed they sell if they were actually adhering to the current law’s cooperative grow requirements (ergo, the “medical” distributors are ipso facto breaking the law), and (2) forensic analysis of the weed being sold in L.A. demonstrates that it is laced with a pesticide not used in California but common in Mexico for use against fire ants (ergo, the pot is being imported from Mexico’s beloved drug cartels.)
“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “
—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”
—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles
Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com
In practical effect, the Obama/Holder hands-off policy has evaded honest debate about whether a hit of BC bud is any worse than a bottle of Bud.
That is fair ground to engage and, clearly, many millions of Americans favor toke over brew. But to engage in an honest dialogue, of course, would require the Administration to take a straightforward position, up or down, and that might be difficult for two reasons.
First, this early exchange from something called “Open for Questions ” on the transitional “Change.gov” website:
Open for Questions: Response
Monday, December 15, 2008 06:05pm EST / Posted by Dan McSwain
We’ve launched several features recently that are opening up the two-way dialogue between the Transition team and the Change.gov community.
Q: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?” S. Man, Denton
A: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.
On the other hand, campaigner Obama admitted partaking of the sultry smoke stuff as a “confused” teenager (“Barack Obama, asked about drug history, admits he inhaled”). Obama did not cop to a clever Bill Clintonesque Plea (“Did not have sex, did not inhale”), but owned straight up, getting down with the voting-age kids whose jeans reek of the forbidden weed:
For one thing, he said, “When I was a kid, I inhaled.”
“That was the point,” Obama told an audience of magazine editors.
One line of serious fact-based policy analysis I heard recently goes like this: Obama’s getting elected in spit of this admission, and the pattern of marijuana use among young people (say those under 30), makes it virtually inevitable that our drug policy will change and marijuana will be truly legalized.
That may be so. And if it is, let’s get the debate on the table.
But do not be fooled. This is not what the Obama/Holder policy does. It is simply a perverse form of “don’t look, don’t enforce” in the face of rampant criminality. And, as The New York Times suggests in today’s article cited above, a patchwork of different state laws could result:
“The next step would be a particular state deciding to legalize marijuana entirely,” said Peter J. Cohen, a doctor and a lawyer who teaches public health law at Georgetown University. If federal prosecutors kept their distance even then, Dr. Cohen said, legalized marijuana would become a de facto reality.
De facto reality?
Anyone who thinks drug traffickers will not seize on such a disparity of state law to set up illicit smuggling systems must be smoking something. If Oregon, for example, completely legalizes marijuana, planes, trains, buses and backpacks will be flowing out to the rest of the United States.
This evasion is neither a good thing for policy-making nor for law enforcement. Let’s look this pig right in the eye.
There are plenty of well-organized, well-funded advocates of outright legalization on the web. Here, however, is a voice of experience strongly against legalization, taken from a May 22, 2009 “Freakonomics Quorum” in The New York Times, What Would Happen if Marijuana Were Decriminalized?:
Mike Braun recently retired from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as the Assistant Administrator and Chief of Operations.
In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that an adult’s possession of marijuana for personal consumption in the home was legal. Although the ruling applied only to persons 19 and over, teen consumption of the drug skyrocketed. A 1988 University of Alaska study found that the state’s 12- to 17-year-olds used marijuana at more than twice the national average for their age group. School equivalency test scores plummeted, as work place accidents, insurance rates and drugged-driving accidents went through the roof. Alaska’s residents voted to recriminalize possession of marijuana in 1990, demonstrating their belief that legalization and increased use was too high a price to pay.
In 1985, Stanford University conducted a study of airline pilots who each consumed a low grade marijuana cigarette before entering a flight simulator involving a stressful, yet recoverable scenario. The test resulted in numerous crashes. More alarming was the fact that the pilots again crashed the simulator in the same scenario a full 24 hours after last consuming marijuana, when they all showed no outward signs of intoxication, reported feeling “no residual effects” from the drug, and each also stated they had “no reservations” about flying! Part of the problem with marijuana is that Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives the user his or her high, is absorbed into the fatty tissues of the body where it remains for at least several days, and can continue to have an adverse impact on one’s ability to act capably under stress days after the drug was last ingested.
If healthy pilots can’t respond effectively in the cockpit 24 hours after smoking a low-grade marijuana cigarette, do we really want our kids transported to and from school by a school bus driver who smoked one or two joints the night before? How do we ensure the cop on the beat, who’s carrying a badge and gun, hasn’t smoked marijuana 24 hours before entering onto duty once the drug is legal? And what about those pilots?
Marijuana legalization advocates love to say that we can tax the sale of the drug and generate revenue to cover all the costs associated with legalization, but a few more questions need to be asked.
Will the taxes pay for the significant increases in health and casualty insurance the experts tell us will be levied if marijuana is legalized? Is the government going to hand out free marijuana to those who can’t afford it? If so, who pays for that? Is it O.K. with you if the government or corporate America opens a marijuana distribution center in your neighborhood, or should they only establish them in the economically depressed areas of town? Which government agency will be responsible for rigorous testing to ensure that marijuana sold in the marketplace meets the strictest of consumer standards and is free of pesticides and drugs such as LSD and PCP? Which government agency is going to be responsible for taxing your next-door neighbor when he starts growing marijuana in his back yard, adjacent to your prized roses, of course? What happens when the taxes on marijuana become so excessive from covering all the ancillary costs of legalization that the vast majority of users simply grow the product themselves? Then who will pay for all of this?
I can’t help but ask a couple final questions. What’s the legal age limit we attach to marijuana use? Is it 18; is it 21? And what do we do about the predatory narcotics traffickers who shift every “ounce” of their undivided and merciless attention to those under the authorized age limit once the drug is legalized? Folks, all we need to do is educate ourselves, ask the tough questions, and apply common sense and logic when making a decision on this issue. Most hard-working taxpayers with kids like me will come up with the same answer, which is no to legalization.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Posted below is the full text of the new DOJ medical marijuana guidelines.
Don’t toke up yet. There is a lot less than meets the eye here.
The new guidelines demand “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state law. There is lots of disagreement even within California law enforcement, for example, about exactly what the California law allows and does not allow, so strict compliance is going to be in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps the ultimate intention of this document is to give the US Attorneys a fig leaf so they can stay out of the way of state experimentation without either endorsing the medical marijuana system or ignoring rampant criminality (which many say has infested the California program already)?
THE NEW GUIDELINES
MEMORANDUM FOR SELECTED UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS
FROM: David W. Ogden, Deputy Attorney General
SUBJECT: Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana
This memorandum provides clarification and guidance to federal prosecutors in States that have enacted laws authorizing the medical use of marijuana. These laws vary in their substantive provisions and in the extent of state regulatory oversight, both among the enacting States and among local jurisdictions within those States. Rather than developing different guidelines for every possible variant of state and local law, this memorandum provides uniform guidance to focus federal investigations and prosecutions in these States on core federal enforcement priorities.
The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime and provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels. One timely example underscores the importance of our efforts to prosecute significant marijuana traffickers: marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.
The Department is also committed to making efficient and rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources. In general, United States Attorneys are vested with “plenary authority with regard to federal criminal matters” within their districts. USAM 9-2.001. In exercising this authority, United States Attorneys are “invested by statute and delegation from the Attorney General with the broadest discretion in the exercise of such authority.” Id. This authority should, of course, be exercised consistent with Department priorities and guidance.
The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Department’s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs, and the Department’s investigative and prosecutorial resources should be directed towards these objectives. As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources. On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Department’s core enforcement priorities.
Typically, when any of the following characteristics is present, the conduct will not be in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law and may indicate illegal drug trafficking activity of potential federal interest:
* unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms;
* sales to minors;
* financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law;
* amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law;
* illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances; or
* ties to other criminal enterprises.
Of course, no State can authorize violations of federal law, and the list of factors above is not intended to describe exhaustively when a federal prosecution may be warranted. Accordingly, in prosecutions under the Controlled Substances Act, federal prosecutors are not expected to charge, prove, or otherwise establish any state law violations. Indeed, this memorandum does not alter in any way the Department’s authority to enforce federal law, including laws prohibiting the manufacture, production, distribution, possession, or use of marijuana on federal property. This guidance regarding resource allocation does not “legalize” marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law, nor is it intended to create any privileges, benefits, or rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any individual, party or witness in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter. Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law or the absence of one or all of the above factors create a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Rather, this memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.
Finally, nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution where there is a reasonable basis to believe that compliance with state law is being invoked as a pretext for the production or distribution of marijuana for purposes not authorized by state law. Nor does this guidance preclude investigation or prosecution, even when there is clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law, in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests.
Your offices should continue to review marijuana cases for prosecution on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the guidance on resource allocation and federal priorities set forth herein, the consideration of requests for federal assistance from state and local law enforcement authorities, and the Principles of Federal Prosecution.
cc: All United States Attorneys
Lanny A. Breuer
Assistant Attorney General Criminal Division
B. Todd Jones
United States Attorney
District of Minnesota
Chair, Attorney General’s Advisory Committee
Michele M. Leonhart
Drug Enforcement Administration
H. Marshall Jarrett
Executive Office for United States Attorneys
Kevin L. Perkins
Criminal Investigative Division
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats.
If it didn’t, with all due respect, you just don’t get it.
The ruthless evil of the narcotraficantes that this story portrays is not just the fancy convention of an extremely talented writer. It is as close to real as you might get, short of submerging oneself in the hell of the real thing.
Cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh, the role for which Javier Bardem won his Oscar, is as pure a distillation of evil as anything not capped off tightly in a vial behind the wires at Ft. Detrick, MD.
When you get the Chigurh bug, you’re dead.
The movie’s infamous “call it” scene comes to mind today thinking about another pure distillation of evil, international arms merchant Viktor Bout.
Bout exploded out of the cold war as a well connected Merchant of Death. He played a pivotal role in the arming of children as warriors in Africa and the continuing agony of that continent. He was brought down by a brilliant U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting, overseen by supervisory agent Michael Braun.
Arrested in Thailand, Bout seemed to have been on the way to justice in the United States. But our “friends” in Russia leaned on the Thais, who now seem to be close to springing Bout.
Here is how the Russian news agency Novosti summed up the case last month:
Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 during a sting operation led by U.S. agents.
The Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite Bout to the United States, where he is accused of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms deals, and “threatening the lives of U.S. citizens.”…
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it will give Viktor Bout all the support he needs. The ministry said it hoped Thailand would not reverse its initial decision of not extraditing Bout to the United States.
“All the support he needs” seems to be working. Thailand is about to unleash this evil upon the world again, Braun warned in today’s The Washington Times newspaper:
An appellate court in Thailand appears primed to uphold a recent lower court ruling that will unleash Viktor Bout, universally known as the “Merchant of Death,” back on the global community. To say that Bout is upset with the United States after spending more than a year in a Thai prison would be a gross understatement.
Bout exploded onto the international scene shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when he effectively leveraged his high-level former Soviet military and intelligence contacts and pounced on a capitalistic opportunity to sell a limitless assortment of Soviet arms that had been stockpiled during the Cold War. I’m talking about everything from AK-47 assault rifles by the millions to such advanced heavy weapons as Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, tanks and Igla surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can knock down commercial airliners as easily as a sawed-off shotgun could blast ducks in a barrel.
His clientele were the potpourri of modern-day scum: global terrorists, ruthless dictators, merciless drug kingpins and other transnational organized criminal groups. However, it is the mark that Bout left on Africa that qualifies him as the world’s deadliest “shadow facilitator.”
Bout flooded the continent with hundreds of thousands of AK-47s and other modern weaponry before his arrest. Those arms replaced machetes and other archaic weapons wielded by heavily exploited and drugged young boys, who made up the ranks of several insurgent groups, and instantly transformed them from random murderers into perverse, mindless killing machines operating with assembly-line efficiencies. A million or more innocent Africans were slaughtered.
Read the entire article here.
Braun’s article apparently caused a panic of puckered pants at the State Department. The Attorney General himself may have been galvanized into action.
Here’s the point: the Russians have tossed the coin and it’s up to the Obama administration to call it. Bout is not just some guy who sells guns. He is part of a chain of evil than spans the world: drug traffickers, terrorists, ruthless and heartless.
The question may be this for the Attorney General: Is letting Viktor Bout back into the world to sell more death and destruction to terrorist groups like the Colombian narcoteroristas FARC less important than getting admitted pervert and child abuser Roman Polanski back on our soil to serve his time?
When you stand to win everything, you also stand to lose everything.