Video of the day

Found this via Wonkblog.  Check out what the venom from a Russell’s viper does to human blood.  Truly amazing.

We want Justice to be politically independent

Kevin Drum had a nice post today about the fact that we very much want the presidency to be isolated from what happens at the IRS and the Department of Justice.  We absolutely to no want executive branch using these agencies for political gain.  Thus, in these “scandals” it’s not surprising that none of this has gotten anywhere near President Obama.  And that’s a very good thing.  Drum:

Chris Matthews, for example, was howling the other day about Obama’s ignorance of the AP phone record subpoena, which he thought was indefensible. “You don’t think Bobby would have called Jack?” he asked incredulously. And he’s right: Bobby would have called Jack. And that would have been wrong, which is why the Justice Department is now kept at a much greater distance from the White House. This is universally considered a good thing, which explains Jay Carney’s “Are you serious?” when he was asked about this by reporters a few day ago. Surely we haven’t forgotten so soon after Watergate exactly why we prefer for the president to be kept very far away from criminal investigations?

Ditto for the IRS, which for similar reasons is an agency that we’ve deliberately set up to be independent of the president. We don’t want the president to have any influence over the IRS, and we don’t want him kept apprised of the details of ongoing inquiries. It would have been a scandal if Obama had known any details about the IG investigation of the IRS’s tea party targeting.

Meanwhile, here in NC, the new Senate budget proposal is calling for taking the State Bureau of Investigations– which investigates public corruption among other things– and moving its oversight from the independent state Attorney General’s office (our AG is elected statewide, not appointed by the governor) and moving it to the state Department of Public Safety, which is overseen by a gubernatorial appointment.

The SBI supplied much of the manpower in the recent probes into the campaigns and administrations of former Govs. Bev Perdue and Mike Easley, both Democrats. SBI investigators helped build cases against Jim Black, a former Democratic Speaker of the House who went to federal prison on a public corruption charge, and Meg Scott Phipps, a former Democratic state Agriculture Commissioner who served time in federal prison for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The State Highway Patrol and Department of Correction also have been the targets of numerous investigations, as have other state agencies.

For 75 years, Cooper said, the SBI has “provided a check on power.” Prosecutors, courts and the public, he argued, have relied on the investigations because of the SBI’s independence.

“No matter who controls the state legislature, the governor’s office or the attorney general’s office, this system works best,” Cooper said. “Putting the SBI under any governor’s administration increases the risk that corruption and cover-up occur with impunity.”

To our governor’s credit, he opposed this.  The Republican Senator who proposed it said will save $2 million a year.  To which all I have to say, some times it actually costs money to do the right thing.  Deal with it.

How we trace guns in crimes

Great story on NPR this afternoon that clearly demonstrates the absolutely absurd hold the gun nuts have on our policy.  Due to their fear of gun registration being just a small step from gun confiscation (and yet giving government the power to levy income taxes has not led to 100% taxes and communism) the law makes it ridiculously difficult and arcane for law enforcement to track down guns used in crimes.  We pay government employees to literally sort through boxes and boxes of paper gun records because heaven forbid the government should actually have a computerized record keeping system for gun sales.  Obviously the second amendment means nothing and government is a tyranny if they have records of who purchased what gun.

Opponents of expanding background checks for gun sales often raise the fear that it would allow the government to create a national gun registry — a database of gun transactions. In fact, federal law already bans the creation of such a registry. And the reality of how gun sales records are accessed turns out to be surprisingly low-tech…

Many people assume that ATF has a massive database of gun owners at its fingertips and can instantly access that information. The reality is very different. It involves lots of phone calls — and often, manual labor.

Here’s how it works:

Local law enforcement sends ATF the particulars on the gun they’ve seized: the manufacturer, model, caliber, serial number. ATF then starts running that information back through the distribution chain, contacting the gun manufacturer — say, Glock or Smith & Wesson — and the manufacturer checks its records and identifies the wholesaler it sold the firearm to.

Then, ATF contacts the wholesaler and goes down the record chain until it finds the retail gun dealer. It’s that dealer who should be able to say who bought that firearm.

It’s up to the federally licensed gun dealer to keep the record of each gun purchase. It’s a three-page form called a 4473 that the buyer and dealer have to fill out before a sale…

On a recent visit, the center received a dozen boxes of records from an Alabama gun dealer who’s gone out of business. But these gun sale records can come in by the truckload — as many as 3,000 boxes at a time, hundreds of millions of pages in all. Those pages are stored in stacked cartons that line the walls and reach the ceiling. Boxes are everywhere. All of these cartons hold records of gun sales from businesses that have folded.

“On any given day, we will have to hand-search these records,” says ATF Special Agent Charles Houser, who runs the National Tracing Center.

That’s right, hand-search.

That means that if it’s a gun maker or seller who’s gone out of business, the workers here have to painstakingly leaf through these documents one page at a time looking for a match to the gun they’re trying to trace.

“The idea that we have a computer database and you just type in a serial number and it pops out some purchaser’s name is a myth,” Houser says.

This is just nuts!  The technology is simple.  The real chance that the government will use gun tracing to take away the guns of legitimate gun owner is zero.  The chance that a searchable database would lead to putting more bad guys in jail is basically 100%  Now, I always preach to my classes that there’s a reason we don’t let the police do whatever they want and that sometimes it’s even okay to let bad guys get away to protect an important principle like the 4th amendment– the alternative being a police state.  So, I’m not just idly saying this.  But if we just let the police search whatever they want without a warrant its pretty clear that the innocent will seriously suffer and freedom will massively erode.  But simply allowing the government to have a record of gun transactions in no way leads to an implicit reduction for legally appropriate people to own firearms.

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