Monday, February 26, 2018

Cruising the Web

It really is ironic that, after so many mistakes and screw-ups by government officials that have been revealed after the Parkland shooting, that there is this great outcry to give government more power in restricting gun rights.

As Andrew Malcolm writes for McClatchy, how about "enforcing existing gun laws before launching new ones." I know that, after such a horrific shooting that ended the lives of so many young people, that people are angry and want to do something...anything. They want someone to blame. They want government to protect kids in schools.
Why don’t we try making all the existing enforcement and preventive tools work — really work — before we slide routinely into the comfortable, predictable and almost certainly unproductive arguments about dubious news ones?

It may sound unrewarding if you want to stay hysterical or score political points. Congress members would have to give up statements of rage when seemingly encountering reporters by accident in Capitol hallways. And as tempting as it might be to an impulsive president under FBI investigation, he’d have to forsake self-serving tweet storms against that agency.

If the goal is not just to score political points — how silly to even mention such an outlandish idea these days, right? — but actually to make such murderous mayhem less likely, it’s pretty smart to do what you already can do legally. Try the obvious. It’s so crazy, it might just work.
And, sadly, there were so many red flags about this kid that, if the authorities had done something more than just pay a cursory visit to the home, they might have, at least gotten him on a list to ban him from purchasing a gun. They might have found reason to confiscate whatever weapons he already might have had. Stephen Gutowski has a very good thread of tweets on what could have been done if the Broward County Sheriff's Office had just done its job. He points out that they were called out to his house in 2012 and 2013 when he attacked his mother. If they'd charged him and he'd been convicted back then, he wouldn't have been able to purchase a gun. They were called to his house for an attempted suicide attempt. If they'd put together that event and the other evidence they could have had him involuntarily committed under Florida's Baker Act. If they had done so, he wouldn't have been able to purchase any firearms. And, if they had done more at the time of all these calls, and if the FBI had done its job when it received a credible complaint detailing how dangerous this kid was, even more might have been done to stop him. It was the system that failed everyone in this sad story. And who knows how many other people there are out there for whom authorities have been given lots of red flags, but haven't yet acted?

Add in the practically unbelievable stories that we're now finding out that the deputies and resource officer, all of whom were armed, at the school remained outside and didn't enter the school. Mary Katharine Ham tweets exactly what I'm thinking as I read about this story.
And before someone objects that no one is talking about disarming everyone, think of the cheering at that CNN townhall meeting when Rubio rightly observed that a ban on AR-15s would lead to banning every semi-automatic rifle in the country and the crowd roared in approval.

And then the Democrats have had to virtually acknowledge that Rubio was exactly correct.

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Philip Klein takes a realistic, albeit depressing view of the possibilities for any efficacious solution to mass shootings. We all want that same goal. Contrary to some of the more heated accusations flying around, nobody wants more innocent people to be gunned down while they're at school or at a concert or softball game.
A closer look at a lot of the proposed remedies reveals a haunting paradox: Solutions that would be theoretically (though not necessarily) effective would be some combination of draconian, illegal, costly, and a threat to civil liberties, whereas more modest solutions aren’t likely to be effective.

To start with, let’s talk about guns. While it’s true that people kill people, it’s also undeniable that guns make it a lot easier for a novice to kill more people more quickly. However, any attempt to control guns has to be balanced against gun rights that are enshrined in our Constitution and recognized by our highest court; and the reality of the large number of existing guns in circulation.

Some of the ideas that have been batted around in recent years include banning "bump stocks," increasing the age to purchase guns, background checks, or even banning AR-15s.
Banning bump stocks is politically feasible, but it's not obvious that that would have stopped many mass shootings other than the one in Las Vegas. Raising the age for buying rifles to 21 wouldn't stop someone with truly evil intent from either getting guns illegally or stealing from a relative as the Sandy Hook murder did.
As for other measures, looking at recent mass shootings, many of the shooters had no prior criminal record, allowing them to pass background checks, and in several cases where there was a problematic background, human error allowed shooters to pass the screening process. This was the case, for instance, with the Texas church shooter, who had a domestic violence conviction while in the Air Force, but the Air Force didn’t enter that information into federal databases, so he was able to pass a background check, allowing him to legally purchase a gun that he used to kill 26 people.

As for banning AR-15s, there are many other guns that can be just as deadly that would remain legal — and a ban on all semi-automatic weapons would affect about half of the guns already in circulation. This raises another issue: even if all new purchases of semi-automatic weapons were banned, there would still be over 300 million privately-owned guns in the U.S.

Unlike politicians and special interests who try to talk about modest “common sense” steps to control guns that will save lives, honest opponents of guns are willing to admit what it would really take to limit access to guns — mass confiscation. This step, however, would be unconstitutional, requiring repealing the Second Amendment by two-thirds of Congress and/or 38 states.

Though supporters like to tout Australia as an example, which instituted a mandatory buyback program and stricter gun regulations after a mass shooting, there is wide debate over how effective it was in reducing gun violence in general, and at the minimum, the evidence is inconclusive that it prevented mass shootings. Regardless, the comparison with Australia, which confiscated 650,000 guns, doesn’t offer guidance as to how a similar policy would be implemented in America, which has roughly 500 times that amount of guns and a tradition of gun ownership that was part of our nation’s founding.
So the solutions proposed by gun control advocates might make people feel good, but are either not practical or unconstitutional.

Gun rights advocates put forth ideas such as increased spending on mental health care. But, worthwhile as a goal that is in general, it's not clear that that would do much at all to address mass shooters.
Among the issues: many mass shooters are not mentally ill; increased access doesn’t mean that potential shooters will seek psychiatric care or that it would be effective if sought; forcing any high-school student who seems odd or anti-social into mental health treatment would create massive civil liberties issues, and most of those being treated wouldn’t have turned into mass shooters anyway.
There are things that individual schools could do to improve school security, but those would be extremely expensive and, as Klein details, might not do all that much. Is that the way we really want to spend sparse school funding? We saw that having an armed deputy at the school in Parkland didn't do any good.
Installing airport-style security at every school would impose massive costs on a school system that is already strained. The budget of the TSA is around $8 billion and there are about 500 commercial service airports in the U.S. There are, in contrast, about 100,000 public schools, a very small number of which will ever see a shooting. This doesn’t even speak to the change in culture that would result in maintaining such a massive security state in schools, or the potential for civil liberties violations. Even if you were to completely secure the school building itself with metal detectors, and armed guards at all entrances, it’s easy to see mass shooters adapting — say, shooting up soccer games that aren’t within the secured area of the building.
I don't have much faith in the idea the NRA and Trump are advocating to have teachers carry guns. Perhaps in some areas, there are teachers who would be willing to embrace that role, but I don't know of any teacher in the schools I've taught at who would want to. In regions of the country where guns are a common feature of life, probably there would be teachers who would be happy to bring their guns to school. But, in many areas of the country, teachers are quite liberal and just aren't part of the gun culture.

It's all very depressing to think that there really isn't any solution that would stop future mass shootings. THe most we can hope for is that the authorities enforce the laws we already have and to exercise more care when they get calls about a young person threatening violence to his schoolmates and family.

I know that, when these shootings happen, people want to blame someone and the NRA is a handy target. But people just don't understand why the NRA is powerful. As Eric Lipton and Alexander Burns write in the NYT, their poewr isn't from the money they give politicians who support gun rights, but their ability to mobilize the many millions who agree with those positions and are willing to vote on that one issue.
But the numbers tell a more complicated story: The organization’s political action committee over the last decade has not made a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate, according to campaign finance records.

In Florida and other states across the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, the N.R.A. derives its political influence instead from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls.

“It’s really not the contributions,” said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. “It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.”
Yes, they donate money, $1.1 million in 2016, to candidates and, recently, those donations are only to Republicans. But that is because Democrats have moved to the left on gun issues. They used to give a lot more to Democrats. But the money they donate is very little compared to other organizations.
Those amounts are dwarfed by the largess of other major contributors. Comcast, through its political action committee and its employees, directly donated $12.7 million in the 2016 campaign cycle to federal candidates or political parties, and the committee for Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, and its employees directly donated nearly $3 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics tallies.

Those numbers are tied to campaign finance reports filed by individual lawmakers. The N.R.A.’s spending on messages like its voter guides does not need to be disclosed, because it falls into the category of a membership-based group communicating with its members.

When candidates waver in their support for sweeping gun rights, the group does not hesitate to turn on them. After Ted Strickland, a Democrat who earned the N.R.A.’s endorsement as a candidate for governor of Ohio, backed a ban on assault weapons, the organization spent more than $1.5 million in so-called independent expenditures, like TV ads, to defeat him in a 2016 bid for the Senate.

Ms. Mitchell, a Republican election lawyer who sat on the group’s board for nearly a decade, said its record of loyalty to those who stand by it was a cornerstone of its influence. “They know that it’s not easy, sometimes, to stick with the N.R.A.,” she said of the group’s leadership. “At times like this, it’s very easy to get stampeded by the media and the left.”
But unions and liberal groups like Planned Parenthood do the same thing to support their candidates. There is nothing particularly unusual or nefarious about
what the NRA does. The real problem for NRA's critics is that there are so many people who feel so strongly about gun rights.

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The one public official who is finally receiving deserved opprobrium is Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. He was quite happy to whip up the crowd at the CNN townhall against the NRA and attack Dana Loesch. He did all that while knowing that the armed officer at the school at not gone in the school while the shooting was going on. He knew about all the times that people from his office had responded to complaints about the shooter and had done nothing. When he went on CNN on Sunday, Jake Tapper, perhaps to make up for how he let the townhall get away from him, asked him some tough questions and Israel just bragged about how he had provided "amazing leadership" as sheriff.
"I've exercised my due diligence, I've led this county proudly as I always have," he said. "We have restricted that deputy as we look in to it. You know, deputies make mistakes, police officers make mistakes, we all make mistakes, but it's not the responsibility of the general or the president if you have a deserter. You look into this. We're looking into this aggressively, and we'll take care of it and justice will be served."

"Are you really not taking any responsibility for the multiple red flags that were brought to the attention of the Broward Sheriff's Office about this shooter before the incident?" Tapper asked.

"Jake, I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence. I've given amazing leadership to this agency—" Israel started.

"Amazing leadership? Tapper asked incredulously.

"Yes, Jake. There's a lot of things we've done throughout this—this is—you don't measure a person's leadership by a deputy not going into—these deputies received the training they needed—" Israel said.

"Maybe you measure somebody's leadership by whether or not they protect the community," Tapper said. "In this case, you've listed 23 incidents before the shooting involving the shooter and still nothing was done to keep guns out of his hands, to make sure that the school was protected, to make sure you were keeping an eye on him … I don't understand how you can sit there and claim amazing leadership."
Israel wants all the blame to fall on the officer who didn't go into the school and not focus on all the opportunities his office had to stop the shooter before it even happened. And there were also three other sheriff's deputies who also didn't go into the school.
Sources from Coral Springs, Fla., Police Department tell CNN that when its officers arrived on the scene Wednesday, they were shocked to find three Broward County Sheriff’s deputies behind their cars with weapons drawn.

The school’s armed resource officer, Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, was also outside.
Sheriff Scott Israel is more of a politician, behaving as if the sheriff's office was his personal Tammany Hall for political supporters. The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported in August, 2016 of how he used his office to funnel money to his supporters.
ince winning one of the most powerful elected posts in Broward, Sheriff Scott Israel has hired from the ranks of his political supporters, building a community outreach wing his critics say doubles as a re-election team.

The supporters receive public funds to go out into the community, including to political meetings, touting the agency's successes under Israel, and getting feedback. Some of the same employees campaign for the sheriff at the polls. Broward Sheriff's Office officials said they're doing so on their free time.

Israel's hiring practices have been criticized by his political foes since his 2012 election, but the controversy has moved to the forefront this year as he runs for re-election. He faces three fellow Democrats in the Aug. 30 primary; the winner faces a Republican in November.

A log of employees hired by the sheriff shows 10 workers were hired since 2013 into "outreach'' roles, their salaries totalling $634,479. The unit is embedded into a $2.4 million community services division. When the budget year closes out in October, the outreach team expects to have made contact with 320,000 people, budget documents say.

The outreach workers, who mainly attend community events, are in addition to political activists and others Israel hired into community affairs roles, writing and designing printed pieces about the agency, and sharing it on social media. The employee log shows six hired into community affairs roles, their salaries totaling $388,729.
Israel rejected all that criticism with the most pretentious language imaginable.
Israel said he built the outreach wing from nearly nothing, aiming to foster "a love affair with the community." He said it would engender trust with the community that was lacking under the tenure of predecessor Al Lamberti. He defending the tapping of people he knew, some from the campaign trail, into outreach and other roles.

"What have I done differently than Don Shula or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Ghandi [sic]?" asked Israel. "Men and women who assume leadership roles surround themselves with people who are loyal, who they can depend on and who they appreciate their skill set."
Word to the wise - anyone who compares himself to Abraham Lincoln, MLK, and Gandhi thinks just a bit too much of himself. I'd give him the Don Shula comparison, but it seems the only success Israel has had is getting himself elected.

And here's an odd connection - one of his political associates who helped him get elected is Roger Stone. That's another key sign right there.

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The WSJ isn't impressed with the Democrats' memo which purports to refute the Republicans' memo on the Obama administration's application for a FISA warrant. What the Democrats did reveal is that they don't have much problem with the Executive Branch trumping up reasons to eavesdrop on an American citizen.
The Democratic memo also confirms that the FBI withheld from the court the partisan provenance of the dossier. Democrats even provide, for the first time in public, the precise language the FBI used in its initial application in a long, obfuscating footnote.

Democrats say the FBI told the FISA court that a “law firm” [Clinton/DNC firm Perkins Coie] hired “an identified U.S. person” [oppo-research firm Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson ] to “conduct research regarding Candidate #1s ties to Russia.” The “identified U.S. person” then hired “Source #1” [Mr. Steele] to do the research. The footnote ends: “The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”

Speculates? Likely? Could? The dossier was paid for by actors whose overriding purpose was to defeat Mr. Trump. Nowhere do Democrats say the FBI used the words “political” or “partisan” or “campaign,” much less Clinton or Democratic National Committee.

The Democratic memo claims the FBI acted “appropriately” in not “revealing” the name of an “entity” in a FISA application, but this is laughable. The FBI sometimes masks identities to preserve sources and methods, but the Steele dossier was a pastiche of gossip and rumor based on Mr. Steele’s contacts. Disclosing his partisan funders would have betrayed no important intelligence sources but would have given the court reason to ask the FBI for more credible information before granting an eavesdrop order.

Messrs. Steele and Simpson briefed their media friends in September and October about their dossier, despite FBI prohibitions. The FBI nonetheless falsely told the court that Mr. Steele wasn’t the source of a Yahoo News article that it used as additional evidence in its application. While the Democratic memo repeatedly refers to Mr. Steele’s reporting as “reliable” and “credible,” it confirms that the FBI fired Mr. Steele after it found he hadn’t told the truth about his media spinning.

The Democratic memo devotes considerable space to smearing the hapless Mr. Page, as if he’s some kind of master spy and the Rosetta Stone of the Trump-Russia story. Yet no one has offered proof that he colluded with the Russians, and he hasn’t been indicted.

Democrats also make much of the fact the FBI started looking into the Trump campaign in July 2016 but didn’t receive “Steele’s reporting” until “mid-September.” So what? The issue here is the fairness and honesty of the FISA application in late October (not the investigation), and what matters is that the FBI didn’t move on the FISA application until after it received the dossier.

The only definitive evidence of political “collusion” so far is that the Clinton campaign paid Mr. Steele to troll his Russian sources for dirt on Donald Trump. The FBI then used this dirt as a reason to spy on Mr. Page and anyone he was communicating with. Imagine how the press would be playing this story if the roles were reversed?

Meanwhile, there are several facts left out of the Democrats' memo. The most surprising is the point that Democrats were making all over the place when the Nunes memo first came out.
The Democratic memo ignored Republicans’ contention that former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe testified in December that the FISA warrant would not have been sought without the infamous dossier, which was commissioned by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). McCabe’s testimony was a key point in the Republican memo.

Democratic California Rep. Eric Swalwell claimed earlier this month that Republicans had mischaracterized McCabe’s testimony. However, Democrats declined to directly refute that claim in their own memo.
That's an important omission and we can be sure that, if the Nunes memo was lying about what McCabe actually said, the Democrats would have been all over that.