Columbine

I've just been reading The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, which draws out the cycle of destruction in one family that starts with Columbine.  I'm looking forward to reading Dave Cullen's new book on Columbine– he's got some interesting articles and excerpts up on Slate.  These four lessons of Columbine are quite intriguing.  This one struck me:

This leads us to the second, and perhaps most important, lesson
learned from Columbine: what the FBI calls "leakage." Gunfire in the
classroom is the final stage of a long-simmering attack. The Secret
Service found that 81 percent of shooters had explicitly revealed their
intentions. Most told two people. Some told more. Kids are bad at
secrets. The grander the plot, the more likely to sprout leaks.

The
dramatic change post-Columbine is now we believe the leaks. Many
potentially deadly plots have been foiled since Columbine because of
leakage. In 2001, a pair of Colorado middle-schoolers procured a
Columbine-like arsenal: TEC-9, shotgun, rifles, and propane bombs. They
recruited gunmen to cover more exits. One of them told at least seven
people that he planned to "redo Columbine." He bragged to four girls
that they would be the first to die. The girls went straight to the
police. Since Columbine, kids take threats seriously.

We have
taken the principle of leakage to excess. The belief that any unkind
word may signal mortal danger caused school districts to impose
zero-tolerance policies. All threats, physical and verbal, are taken
seriously and treated severely.

The taking seriously part is
fine. We do need to investigate every "joke," just in case. But we also
need to respond reasonably. We should not execute a search warrant
every time a little kid points his finger and goes, "Bang." And while
the teenager who says he's going to blow up his school should have his house searched, if the search turns up empty—no explosives, no ingredients, no Anarchist Cookbook,
no diagrams, and no manifesto—the worst thing administrators can do is
expel him. If we want our kids safe, we need to resist the urge to make
an example of someone who spoke stupidly but had no plan. Punishing him
harshly sets exactly the wrong example to the crucial audience: friends
of the next "joker." That's because kids remain the best early warning
system. We're counting on kids to turn in a friend, even when they're
sure he's innocent, just to be safe. They need to know that if they
report a "joke" and it turns out to be a joke, there are no
consequences except brief embarrassment. If they're wrong and it's not
a joke, they'll save lives. We need to convince them to let adults make
that determination. We can only do that by giving the jokester a pass
if it's just a joke.

Great point.  As I've written before: zero tolerance = zero intelligence.  When elementary school kids get in trouble for using any pretend weapon at recess (okay, I get the gun, but light sabers?!  Give me a break), things have gone too far.

 

 

Torture memos

The Obama administration released the Bush torture memos and they are exactly as morally repugnant as you might expect.  The moral failing and moral grotesqueness of the Bush administration is disgusting and pathetic.  As always, nobody covers this stuff better than Salon's Glenn Greenwald:

The ACLU has all four memos here.  This 46-page May 10, 2005 memo
(.pdf) from OLC Chief Steven Bradbury authorizes (under Constitutional
and international law) all of these tactics for any "high-value
detainees": nudity, "dietary manipulation" involving "minimum caloric
intake at commerical weight-loss programs," "corrective techniques"
(facial and abdominal slapping), water dousing, "walling," stress
positions and "wall standing" (to "induce muscle fatigue and the
attendent discomfort"), cramped confinement, and sleep deprivation.  It
also authorized "no more than two sessions" of waterboarding in "any
24-hour period."…

They explicitly recognized that the techniques they were authorizing
were ones that we condemned other countries for using — including as
"torture" — but nonetheless approved them, explicitly saying that the standards we impose on others do not bind us in any way:

I love this little bit of analysis from David Corn:

The memo did note that "the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat
of imminent death." But the OLC asserted that for this threat to be
equated with "severe mental pain or suffering" it must be
"prolonged"–meaning "lasting months or years." In other words, a
physical act producing that was like suffocation that could be
perceived as a "threat of imminent death" would not constitute
"torture."

The legal reasoning behind all this is so patently and facially absurd that it seems there should be a strong case for prosecuting the government lawyers who wrote these memos.  And on that note, Andrew Sullivan:

That's why the internal OPR report on the legal professionalism of
the torture lawyers is so crucial and why it is being fought over so
fiercely. If Yoo and Bybee's memos were so below legal standards that
they can be objectively shown to be a means to get away with torture
rather than good faith effort to apply the law to proposed torture
techniques, then they too acted in bad faith. And they too are war
criminals.

I do not believe that the focus should be on CIA
staffers. I never have. These war crimes should be traced directly to
those responsible: the men who made the decision to deploy torture as a
routine part of American government, and to turn America into an
international symbol that democracies, as well as autocracies and
dictatorships, can allow torture to be integrated into their identity
and legal system. This Bush and Cheney did. It affected America, but
one suspects that the period in which America told the world that
torture was fine, and even moral, will have consequences far and wide
for a long time to come.

Kevin Drum posted a visual excerpt (which I don't feel like copying) which concludes that this stuff is not really torture because, we're only doing what's necessary to get information from terrorists.   I'm not sure you can get more logically facile.  I'm sure Saddam Hussein thought he had good reasons for torturing his political enemies and I'm sure that's what they think in Iran's prisons, too.

Let's go back to Andrew Sullivan for the final word on this:

I do not believe that any American president has ever orchestrated,
constructed or so closely monitored the torture of other human beings
the way George W. Bush did. It is clear that it is pre-meditated; and
it is clear that the parsing of torture techniques that you read in the
report is a simply disgusting and repellent piece of dishonesty and bad
faith… Human beings were contorted into classic
stress positions used by the Gestapo; they had towels tied around their
necks in order to smash their bodies against walls; they were denied of
all sleep for up to eleven days and nights at a time; they were stuck
in tiny suffocating boxes; they were waterboarded just as the victims
of the Khmer Rouge were waterboarded. And through all this, Bush and
Cheney had lawyers prepared to write elaborate memos saying that all of
this was legal, constitutional, moral and not severe pain and
suffering.

Bybee is not representing justice in this memo. He
is representing the president. And the president is seeking to commit
war crimes. And he succeeded. This much we now know beyond any
reasonable doubt. It is a very dark day for this country, but less dark
than every day since Cheney decided to turn the US into a torturing
country until now.

Gun nuts

Gun nuts are definitely nuts.  Heard this story on NPR today about how all the gun nuts out there are hoarding ammo because they are afraid that Obama is coming to take it away from them as part of the new socialist world order.  Get a grip.  Anyway, Salon's Gary Kamiya has a nice piece on how the right-wing noise machine fans the flames of all this:

 It would be easy for us to cordon Poplawski off, pretend that his
ugly and paranoid worldview had nothing to do with the Obama hatred
spouted by the American right. But the truth is that Poplawski's
hateful views cannot be separated from the increasingly extreme
ideology and rhetoric that characterize the contemporary American
conservative movement. As his friend, Edward Perkovic, told the
Associated Press, Poplawski feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the
way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon."

Such
obsessions don't come out of a vacuum. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the
GOP have been whipping up hatred and fear of Obama and "liberal
Democrats" for years. Joined by the National Rifle Association, which
has run false and irresponsible ads claiming that Obama is planning to
take away Americans' guns, they have encouraged and helped to create a
pathological right-wing subculture in which free-floating hatred of
"the government" mixes with a maniacal fetish for guns. Poplawski is
the diseased fruit of that ugly tree…

Poplawski's black-helicopter and anti-Semitic ravings put him at the
outer edge of the right. But his paranoid fear that Obama was going to
take away his AK-47 is mainstream among conservatives. That fear,
fomented by the NRA and echoed by right-wing commentators from Lou
Dobbs to Limbaugh, is ubiquitous online. A right-wing, pro-gun Web site
I Googled at random, Theodore's World
(slogan: "The PC Free Zone Gazette is American first and Conservative
second. It is never anti-American!"), highlights several stories about
black men who killed police officers. Commenting on one incident in
which the suspect was wounded by another policeman, someone posting as
"Bob F" writes, "It's too bad when the cop's partner shot back, he only
wounded him. Now the taxpayers are going to have to pay for medical
treatment and prison. The cost of a bullet is probably only .50 cents.
Unfortunately, it's only going to get worse on the streets as Obama and
his minions disarm law abiding citizens while criminals run rampant."

Much
of the responsibility for this paranoia lies with the NRA.

How is the NRA responsible?  Read the whole thing– it's short and sweet (and I'm going to bed instead of excerpting further quotes).

 

 

 

American Public: It is okay to execute innocent people

I was going through some statistics, etc., preparing for a discussion of the death penalty in my public policy class this week when something really jumped out at me.  Support for the death penalty these days is typically in the mid-60's.  No suprise, that's been quite stable for a while.  However, I came across a poll result I had not seen before: 95% of Americans believe that sometimes innocent people are convicted of murder.  Thus nearly 2/3 of Americans support the death penalty despite thinking that it will occassionally lead to the state-sanctioned execution of innocent people.  Personally, I find that quite disturbing. 

 

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