Author Archives: mike

If a picture is worth a thousand words…

…then here is something that should dovetail nicely with Doug’s post below:


Picture source: REUTERS/Jason Reed

h/t: Radley Balko, who also posted a video that was pulled just a few minutes ago. It featured a bunch of celebrities (so I know, it shouldn’t be taken seriously) but it included the line “I pledge to be a servant to our President.” Creeped the hell out of me.

Quote of the Day, Part Deux

Comes from this AP story on our soon to be President’s activities on the day before his inauguration:

Then his motorcade headed for the Sasha Bruce House, a facility for homeless teens, where he grabbed a paint roller and helped volunteers who were fixing up rooms.

“We can’t allow any idle hands,” he said. “Everybody’s got to be involved.”

I don’t know about you, but the idea of the government deciding who has “idle hands” and then forcing them to “be involved” terrifies me.

The best part of this is the irony inherent in the way the article was structured…before the section about using government to force people to be involved there was a bit about the President-elect visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed, people who VOLUNTEERED to serve their country. After the section there was a bit about him visiting VOLUNTEERS working at a local high school.

End the War

The enemy has changed tactics yet again and as a result we are left scrambling to catch up. Despite a large U.S. military presence, he still manages to elude detection and moves with impunity in order to accomplish his objectives. After an investment of billions of dollars and several years of operations, it’s time to cut our losses and pull out.

MIAMI – U.S.-directed seizures and disruptions of cocaine shipments from Latin America dropped sharply in 2007 from the year before, reflecting in part a successful shift in tactics by drug traffickers to avoid detection at sea, senior American officials disclosed Monday in releasing new figures.

Navy Adm. Jim Stavridis, commander of U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the region, said seizures fell from 262 metric tons in 2006 to about 210 tons last year.

“It’s difficult to say why that is,” he said in an interview with three reporters who visited his headquarters with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who expressed concern at the shift.

The 2007 figure was the lowest since 2003, other officials said. Last year’s drop broke a string of yearly increases in cocaine seizures and disruptions dating to the late 1990s. The numbers include estimates of cocaine thrown overboard or scuttled with vessels — a common response by smugglers who are detected at sea.

The biggest dropoff last year was in seizures at sea, which fell from nearly 160 metric tons in 2006 to about 100 metric tons last year, according to the figures, which are preliminary but were described by officials as reliable estimates.

“In any given contest of offense and defense you’ve got to adjust your tactics,” Stavridis said, alluding to a conclusion reached by Mullen and others that the drug cartels are nimbler than the U.S. government. They are finding new ways of eluding detection at sea, such as shipping drugs in semi-submersible vessels, and are flying drug routes from sites in western Venezuela that are harder to stop, officials said.

Mullen put it more directly during an exchange earlier Monday with several dozen officials at the headquarters of Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, Fla., where military and civilian agencies — including the Pentagon and the CIA — coordinate the tracking of drug shipments and drug leaders.

“The bad guy is moving faster than we’re moving,” Mullen said.

The Joint Chiefs chairman also said he is concerned at how long it might take to regain the upper hand.

“I worry a little bit about how we as a government are able to focus on this mission,” he said, noting that the counterdrug mission is a lower national security priority now than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What war did you think I was talking about?

Not that increased seizures are any evidence that the Drug War is going well, but unlike increased seizures there’s no way this can be spun into a good thing for the U.S. government. I find it a little scary that Adm. Mullen would even mention the counterdrug mission with the actual wars we’re fighting.

For that matter, does anyone else find it disturbing to see the Chairman of the JCS discussing how he’s going to prevent Americans from getting high? Not that it’s anything new, but still, it just struck me as particularly incongruous.

“Young man, turn off your camera.”

Absolutely despicable:

Brian D. Kelly didn’t think he was doing anything illegal when he used his videocamera to record a Carlisle police officer during a traffic stop. Making movies is one of his hobbies, he said, and the stop was just another interesting event to film.

Now he’s worried about going to prison or being burdened with a criminal record.

Kelly, 18, of Carlisle, was arrested on a felony wiretapping charge, with a penalty of up to 7 years in state prison.

His camera and film were seized by police during the May 24 stop, he said, and he spent 26 hours in Cumberland County Prison until his mother posted her house as security for his $2,500 bail.

Kelly is charged under a state law that bars the intentional interception or recording of anyone’s oral conversation without their consent.

There is, of course, an exception in the law in order for police to record citizens during traffic stops. The most chilling part of the story?

First Assistant District Attorney Jaime Keating said case law is in flux as to whether police can expect not to be recorded while performing their duties.

“The law isn’t solid,” Keating said. “But people who do things like this do so at their own peril.”

Move along sheep, nothing to see here. You wouldn’t want to hold the police accountable by filming them because that would be very perilous for you.

Ron Paul’s Reading List

Ron Paul has given Rudy Giuliani a reading assignment:

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Longshot Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul on Thursday gave front-runner Rudy Giuliani a list of foreign-policy books to back up his contention that attacks by Islamic militants are fueled by the U.S. presence in the Middle East.

“I’m giving Mr. Giuliani a reading assignment,” the nine-term Texas congressman said as he stood behind a stack of books that included the report by the commission that examined the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.”

Okay, I don’t care what your political views are…this is pretty dang funny. A reading assignment. So how do you feel about Mr. Giuliani, Rep. Paul?

“I don’t think he’s qualified to be president,” Paul said of Giuliani. “If he was to read the book and report back to me and say, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ I would reconsider.”

Mr. Giuliani, your response?

“A spokeswoman for Giuliani derided Paul’s latest comments.

“It is extraordinary and reckless to claim that the United States invited the attacks on September 11th,” Maria Comella said in an e-mail.

“And to further declare Rudy Giuliani needs to be educated on September 11th when millions of people around the world saw him dealing with these terrorist attacks firsthand is just as absurd.”

Judging by his comments (outlined by Kevin here) that “they hate us for our freedom,” I’d say that Mr. Giuliani could probably use a bit of an education. In case you were wondering what the books were:

Among the books on Paul’s reading list were: “Dying to Win,” which argues that suicide bombers only mobilize against an occupying force; “Blowback,” which examines the unintended consequences of U.S. foreign policy; and the 9/11 Commission Report, which says that al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden was angered by the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

Another book on the list was “Imperial Hubris,” whose author appeared at the press conference to offer support for Paul.

“Foreign policy is about protecting America,” said author Michael Scheuer, who used to head the CIA’s bin Laden unit. “Our foreign policy is doing the opposite.”

An interesting reading list. While I don’t agree wholeheartedly with the viewpoint of many of them, the only way we’re going to win this war is by stopping people from subscribing to the terrorists’ ideology in the first place. Mr. Giuliani’s simplistic “they hate us for our freedom/kill ‘em all” rhetoric certainly isn’t going to do it.


“5-minute delay crucial in Tech shooting”

“Police said he unleashed 170 rounds on the classrooms of Norris Hall during a nine-minute rampage. Thirty people were killed in the building; more were wounded.

During those shooting, police spent three minutes rushing to the building and then about five minutes breaking through the building’s doors, which Seung-Hui Cho had chained.

< ...>

The five minutes police spent breaking into the building proved to be crucial as Cho moved through Norris Hall unimpeded.

Authorities eventually blew their way into the building, and as they began to rush toward the gunfire on the second floor, Cho put a bullet through his head and died, surrounded by his victims.

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller praised the officers’ response time, noting that had police simply rushed into the building without a plan, many would have likely died right along with the staff and students. She said officers needed to assemble the proper team, clear the area and then break through the doors.” (Emphasis mine.)

Oh, I’m sorry. I thought that was your JOB. God forbid that officers actually put their lives on the line so that others might live. I guess they’re too busy busting poker games and shooting 92 year olds during drug raids. Is that a cheap shot? Yes. But I’m pretty damn pissed off at this notion that police need to wait until it’s “safe” before entering a situation.

As for the fact that he chained the doors shut, there are ways of getting chained doors open. From the same article:

Tom Corrigan, former member of a terrorism task force and a retired New York City detective, said five minutes seems like a long time when gunfire is being heard, but he added it’s tough to second-guess officers in such a chaotic situation.

“I would have liked to have seen them bust down the door, smash windows, go around to another door, do everything to get inside fast,” he said. “But it’s a tough call because these officers put their lives on the line on a daily basis and I am sure they did the best they could.”

Al Baker, a former 25-year veteran in the New York Police Department, echoed that sentiment, but said sometimes officers have to do whatever is necessary to enter a building — whether it’s throwing a rock through a window or driving a car through the door. He said the crucial issue is ensuring that officers have the proper training and equipment.

And that’s the crux of the matter. These officers didn’t have the training or mindset to respond to this type of a situation. You take the first four officers that arrive on scene and go in. Period. No ifs ands or buts. It’s your JOB. When you put on the badge and strapped on a sidearm, you supposedly took on a responsibility to protect those you serve. Unfortunately, even in a post-Columbine world, it seems some cops still don’t take that responsibility seriously.

Just remember this the next time someone says that the proper response to a threat is to call the police and wait. They do a great job of investigating bodies, but they’re a little weak on the response side, unless the threat is willing to politely wait for 8 minutes.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset. It is an improvement, after all. At least they didn’t wait 40 minutes before “clearing” the building.

“That Was the Desk I Chose to Die Under”

Read this compilation of first person accounts of the VT shooting from the Post. Then try and tell me that, with very few exceptions, we have a severe cultural problem when it comes to self defense in America.

I should be clear: I am in no way trying to blame the victims. As I said in a comment to Doug’s post, this isn’t about this individual shooting. 999 times out of 1,000, this is going to be the reaction students would have to a shooting. And that’s the problem. This isn’t about individual students and their actions; it’s about a culture that utterly failed to prepare them for the possibility of violence and evil.

That said, it might be instructive to go back and refresh your memory with some of the very basic easily taught defense tactics that I lay out in my post here so you can consider how they might have been applied in these situations if the students had been prepared and how that might have changed things.

It appears that in most cases, when the gunman was shooting a classroom, he entered the room and moved methodically around the room, confronting people face to face at short range, as close as three feet (in all of the following block quotes, emphasis is mine):

The first shot hit Librescu in the head, killing him. Webster ducked to the floor and tucked himself into a ball. He shut his eyes and listened as the gunman walked to the back of the classroom. Two other students were huddled by the wall. He shot a girl, and she cried out. Now the shooter was three feet away, pointing his gun right at Webster.

“I felt something hit my head, but I was still conscious,” Webster recalled. The bullet had grazed his hairline, then ricocheted through his upper right arm. He played dead. “I lay there and let him think he had done his job. I wasn’t moving at all, hoping he wouldn’t come back.” The gunman left the room as suddenly as he had come in.

In some of the rooms, it seems that the gunman actually circled around again shooting the wounded:

Violand, feeling panicky, pointed at her and said, “Put that desk in front of the door, now!” She did, and then someone called 911. The desk could not hold back the push from outside. The first thing Violand saw was a gun, then the gunman. “I quickly dove under a desk,” he recalled. “That was the desk I chose to die under.”

He listened as the gunman began “methodically and calmly” shooting people. “It sounded rhythmic-like. He took his time between each shot and kept up the pace, moving from person to person.” After every shot, Violand thought, “Okay, the next one is me.” But shot after shot, and he felt nothing. He played dead.

“The room was silent except for the haunting sound of moans, some quiet crying, and someone muttering: ‘It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. They will be here soon,’ ” he recalled. The gunman circled again and seemed to be unloading a second round into the wounded. Violand thought he heard the gunman reload three times. He could not hold back odd thoughts: “I wonder what a gun wound feels like. I hope it doesn’t hurt. I wonder if I’ll die slow or fast.” He made eye contact with a girl, also still alive. They stared at each other until the gunman left.

It all comes down to reaction time:

In Jamie Bishop’s German class, they could hear the popping sounds. What was that? Some kind of joke? Construction noises? More pops. Someone suggested that Bishop should place something in front of the classroom door, just in case. The words were no sooner uttered than the door opened and a shooter stepped in. He was holding guns in both hands. Bishop was hit first, a bullet slicing into the side of his head. All the students saw it, an unbelievable horror. The gunman had a serious but calm look on his face. Almost no expression. He stood in the front and kept firing, barely moving. People scrambled out of the line of fire. Trey Perkins knocked over a couple of desks and tried to take cover. No way I can survive this, he thought. His mind raced to his mother and what she would go through when she heard he was dead. Shouts, cries, sobs, more shots, maybe 30 in all. Someone threw up. There was blood everywhere. It took about a minute and a half, and then the gunman left the room.

There were some that ran to the sound of guns, but their actions were the exception rather than the rule:

Kevin Granata had heard the commotion in his third-floor office and ran downstairs. He was a military veteran, very protective of his students. He was gunned down trying to confront the shooter.

< ...>

One student, Zach Petkowicz, was near the lectern “cowering behind it,” he would later say, when he realized that the door was vulnerable. There was a heavy rectangular table in the class, and he and two other students pushed it against the door. No sooner had they fixed it in place than someone pushed hard from the outside. It was the gunman. He forced it open about six inches, but no farther. Petkowicz and his classmates pushed back, not letting up. The gunman fired two shots through the door. One hit the lectern and sent wood scraps and metal flying. Neither hit any of the students. They could hear a clip dropping, the distinct, awful sound of reloading. And, again, the gunman moved on.

< ...>

Room 204, Professor Librescu’s class, seems to have been the gunman’s last stop on the second floor. The teacher and his dozen students had heard too much, though they had not seen anything yet. They had heard a girl’s piercing scream in the hallway. They had heard the pops and more pops. By the time the gunman reached the room, many of the students were on the window ledge. There was grass below, not concrete, and even some shrubs. The old professor was at the door, which would not lock, pushing against it, when the gunman pushed from the other side. Some of the students jumped, others prepared to jump until Librescu could hold the door no longer and the gunman forced his way inside.

Of course, one has to ask: why was a brave old Holocaust survivor left to hold the door by himself? Why did only one person even attempt to confront the shooter? I think we know the answer to that.

h/t: The CDR.

In Defense of Self-Defense, part II

This started as a comment in response to Stephen’s post, but I decided it was big enough to warrant its own post. In the comment section to the afore mentioned post, there’s a discussion going on about exactly what, if anything, the VT students could have done to act in their own self defense.

First, I’d like to say that I feel that Stephen is right on about being bombarded with anti self-defense messages, ranging from being taught to “turn the other cheek” in preschool to the advice we get from law enforcement to simply give muggers and carjackers whatever they want. A lot of people in this country lack the capacity for any kind of violence, even in self defense.

That said, here’s a few thoughts I have on the matter…

The first thing is that the shock factor is the biggest one thing to overcome in a situation like this. The only way to overcome that is to think about it ahead of time. Run through scenarios in your head, always be prepared to take action…sort of what I described here.

As for options, I’ll simply discuss non-carrying options, because I think introducing a carrying student into the scenario simplifies things considerably. In any case, I was thinking about this in my night class tonight. It takes place in a relatively small classroom (20-30 people) in an engineering building with long straight hallways.

First, a caveat…the following makes the assumption that it would be, at most, one or two people acting at once. The likelihood of several people taking action is, at this point in time, highly unlikely due to the culture of non-violence that Stephen discussed.

If all the gunman does is stick his head in a room, shoots through one or two magazines, and then leaves, your only realistic option would be to wait for a mag change and then be prepared to close the distance between you and him quickly, preferebly throwing stuff, making noise, trying to appear as aggressive as possible. However, as tarran points out, if he is managing his ammunition and mag changes appropriately, the opportunity for this would be so slim as to be impossible.

If he does enter the classroom, your options improve slightly, as it gives you more angles at which to approach the gunman and a shorter distance to cover. However, the advantage is still definitely with the shooter.

The only way the advantage lies with the unarmed student(s) is if you are alert enough to realize that a shooting is going on prior to the gunman entering the room and you barricade the door. If the gunman does somehow manage to get through the barricade, 2-3 people (at least) should be waiting beside the door ready to jump him when he comes through. In this case the unarmed students have both surprise and numbers on their side.

Now, if we move out of a classroom and into a lecture hall, but still assume a very small number of people will be reacting offensively to the shooting (2 or 3 at most), the options improve slightly again for the unarmed student(s) but are still not good. Once the shooting starts most people will engage their flight response. You can use that to your advantage by staying with the crowd as long as possible before breaking out to attack the shooter. Once you break out, the above stated actions such as throwing objects, yelling, and appearing as aggressive as possible still apply.

The above discussion was all based on the premise that, at most, 2 or 3 people would be reacting aggressively to counter the gunman. This is pretty realistic given the culture of anti self-defense that Stephen discussed in his post. However, what if we were able to change that culture? Would things be any different?

Most definitely. First, we would be a lot more accepting of common sense defense measures to violence such as this. Schools have fire alarm systems, but God forbid we allow armed guards into the school or armed students onto the campus. We have fire drills, why not have intruder drills that actually involve pro-active action instead of turning off the ligths and hiding under desks waiting for someone else to take care of the problem? As Stephen says, establish the mentality that almost anything can be used as a weapon. Teach that if the entire class begins throwing things and charges the shooter, he can’t get you all and in fact is probably going to react with some surprise and alarm to actually see a large group of people fighting back. Most importantly, make people face the fact that, like fire, violence happens. Simply pretending it doesn’t exist is a recipe for disaster. If we get people to face that one fact, it would do more for decreasing crime and increasing overall safety in this country than increasing our police forces ten fold. If a gunman was able to get through our increased precautionary measures, he would face a much more menacing pack instead of a herd.

You’ll notice I left one scenario out of my discussion. I didn’t discuss if/how someone could chase down and ambush the shooter after he has left the immediate area. The reason is that the chances of anyone doing this unarmed are extremely slim. It would take a true sheepdog to undertake action of that magnitude. The likelihood of such an action succeeding is dependent on a lot of things, several of them intangibles, and has moved from simple self-defense to offensive assault. I’d like to say I’d be able to do such a thing, but I don’t think anyone can say until they’re put into that situation.

All we can do is prepare ourselves physically and mentally and hope we never have to face that moment of truth, but be prepared to do so in an instant.

Seven Years for Shoving?

That’s the sentence 14 year old Shaquanda Cotton received in Paris, TX after shoving a hall monitor in a dispute. Now, while readers of this site certainly would be interested in such an apparent miscarriage of justice, I don’t think it’s too much to say that this wouldn’t get much play in the national media unless there was another angle.

Shaquanda Cotton is black. Another 14 year old girl in the same town received a sentence of probation from the same judge after burning down her family’s home. The other girl is white. It would seem the charge of racism is fairly easy to make in this case. That’s certainly the angle this Trib article takes:

And then there is the case that most troubles Cherry and leaders of the Texas NAACP, involving a 14-year-old black freshman, Shaquanda Cotton, who shoved a hall monitor at Paris High School in a dispute over entering the building before the school day had officially begun.

The youth had no prior arrest record, and the hall monitor–a 58-year-old teacher’s aide–was not seriously injured. But Shaquanda was tried in March 2006 in the town’s juvenile court, convicted of “assault on a public servant” and sentenced by Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville to prison for up to 7 years, until she turns 21.

Just three months earlier, Superville sentenced a 14-year-old white girl, convicted of arson for burning down her family’s house, to probation.

“All Shaquanda did was grab somebody and she will be in jail for 5 or 6 years?” said Gary Bledsoe, an Austin attorney who is president of the state NAACP branch. “It’s like they are sending a signal to black folks in Paris that you stay in your place in this community, in the shadows, intimidated.”

However, as in most cases of this nature, things are not so neatly cut and dried. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in this one, and this article from the local paper that focuses on the Judge and his decision ties a lot of that together. Money quotes:

County Judge Chuck Superville says he fears for the community’s safety and is calling for the national media and other organizations to investigate the facts before drawing conclusions about the Shaquanda Cotton case.

The judge said a March 12 story in The Chicago Tribune unfairly painted the community as racist and a recent protest as well as the threat of future protests by organized groups with national media coverage could “spin this thing out of control.”

Superville said he has refrained from commenting until now because of his position as the judge in the Cotton case, but that he believes he has a higher duty as county judge to maintain order in the community.

“I call on the media and others involved to go to the public record to get the facts of the case before they rush to judgment,” Superville said Saturday.

< ...>

“If Shaquanda had been white, the outcome would have been the same,” Superville said. “My decision was based on facts and law and I am confident this was the correct decision based on the facts I was presented.”

< ...>

Superville said he gave the 14-year old an indeterminate sentence up to seven years — her 21st birthday.

“Once I set the indeterminate sentence, Shaquanda holds the key to her jail cell,” Superville said. “It is up to the child and TYC.”

< ...>

“The juvenile officer said the mother refused to cooperate and said he had no reason to believe the mother would cooperate if Shaquanda received probation,” Superville said.

“That theme was repeated witness after witness—that the mother made it impossible to help Shaquanda,” Superville said. “She blamed everyone except the child for misbehavior.”

So we have a mother that refuses to hold her child accountable and, if I may indulge in a stereotype, appears to be playing the “angry black woman” card. We have the national media and organizations like the NAACP getting ahold of the story and turning it into a federal case. We have a town with apparent race issues. But none of that matters. At the end of the day, we have a now 15 year old girl who will quite possibly be in jail until her 21st birthday because everyone failed her. The system, her community, and her family. How is Shaquanda doing now? From the Trib story:

Inside the youth prison in Brownwood where she has been incarcerated for the past 10 months–a prison currently at the center of a state scandal involving a guard who allegedly sexually abused teenage inmates–Shaquanda, who is now 15, says she has not been doing well.

Three times she has tried to injure herself, first by scratching her face, then by cutting her arm. The last time, she said, she copied a method she saw another young inmate try, knotting a sweater around her neck and yanking it tight so she couldn’t breathe. The guards noticed her sprawled inside her cell before it was too late.

She tried to harm herself, Shaquanda said, out of depression, desperation and fear of the hardened young thieves, robbers, sex offenders and parole violators all around her whom she must try to avoid each day.

“I get paranoid when I get around some of these girls,” Shaquanda said. “Sometimes I feel like I just can’t do this no more–that I can’t survive this.”

Shaquanda needs someone to give her the help she’s not received from the places I listed above. Somehow I doubt playing the race card and turning this into a national Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton media spectacle is going to get her that. On top of that, a system that allows a 14 year old with no prior record to be sentenced to 7 years in prison for shoving is seriously broken, regardless of race.

A lot of stuff is wrong in this case, and it doesn’t appear that any of it is going to get better anytime soon.

h/t: Chap. More here, including some good thoughts about the failure of the community to help Shaquanda.

Granny’s Got a Gun

NEW ORLEANS – Sixty-four-year-old Vivian Westerman rode out Hurricane Katrina in her 19th-century house. So terrible was the experience that she wanted two things before the 2006 season arrived: a backup power source and a gun. “I got a 6,000-watt generator and the cutest little Smith & Wesson, snub-nose .38 you ever saw,” she boasted. “I’ve never been more confident.” People across New Orleans are arming themselves — not only against the possibility of another storm bringing anarchy, but against the violence that has engulfed the metropolitan area in the 19 months since Katrina, making New Orleans the nation’s murder capital.

The number of permits issued to carry concealed weapons is running twice as high as it was before Katrina — this, in a city with only about half its pre-storm population of around 450,000. Attendance at firearms classes and hours logged at shooting ranges also are up, according to the gun industry.

< ...>

Some people are losing faith in the system to protect them.

Earnest Johnson, a 37-year-old chef who lives in Kenner, bought his first gun recently and visits a shooting range regularly. “Things are way worse than they used to be,” he said. “You have to do something to protect yourself.”

Kevin Cato, a 41-year-old contractor, bought a .45-caliber handgun for protection when he is working in some of the city’s still-deserted areas. “But it’s not much safer at home,” Cato said. “The police chased a guy through my yard one time with their guns out.”


It’s too bad that people are having to relearn this lesson again, but at least they are learning it and arming themselves. The government isn’t able to protect you. The only way to have the government guarantee your safety from criminals is to have a police officer in every home. Somehow I don’t think that’s a wise solution.

In any case, I think I’ll stop here because a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’d like to save myself the work:

Image Hosted by

Westerman, an artist who lives in the city’s Algiers neighborhood, is prepared to use deadly force.

“I’m a marksman now. I know what I’m doing,” she said. “There are a lot of us. The girl next door is a crack shot.”

A pack, not a herd.

Iraq War Four Years Later (Part Deux)

No commentary because I’m headed out the door, but I thought this poll would make for an interesting counter-point to Doug’s recent post on Iraq.

DESPITE sectarian slaughter, ethnic cleansing and suicide bombs, an opinion poll conducted on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has found a striking resilience and optimism among the inhabitants.

The poll, the biggest since coalition troops entered Iraq on March 20, 2003, shows that by a majority of two to one, Iraqis prefer the current leadership to Saddam Hussein’s regime, regardless of the security crisis and a lack of public services.

The survey, published today, also reveals that contrary to the views of many western analysts, most Iraqis do not believe they are embroiled in a civil war.

Officials in Washington and London are likely to be buoyed by the poll conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB), a respected British market research company that funded its own survey of 5,019 Iraqis over the age of 18.

Of course, there’s the not so nice data as well:

The poll highlights the impact the sectarian violence has had. Some 26% of Iraqis – 15% of Sunnis and 34% of Shi’ites – have suffered the murder of a family member. Kidnapping has also played a terrifying role: 14% have had a relative, friend or colleague abducted, rising to 33% in Baghdad.

There’s more at the link, including the actual numbers from the poll. It’s well worth checking out, if for nothing else than to note the difference between American and Iraqi perceptions of the war. I’m planning on writing more about Iraq, as I’ve had a bit more time open up as of late. In any case, I’m hoping this might help us escape our label as a “lefty libertarian” blog. :-p

Tyranny and the Right to Leave

Brad has written previously on Mugabe cracking skulls and governments restricting their populace’s right to escape. The two have now combined in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe has continued its violent crackdown on dissents after an opposition activist was badly beaten and prevented from leaving the country at Harare International Airport, his colleagues reported Sunday.

The attack on Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) comes amid mounting criticism on the continent and abroad of the government action against opposition activists.

“He was badly beaten this morning whilst he was on his way to the airport by security agents,” said William Bango, a spokesman for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Chamisa had been due to fly out to Belgium for a meeting.

He became the third opposition politician to be blocked from leaving the country this weekend.

On Saturday, state security agents arrested Arthur Mutambara, leader of an MDC breakaway faction, when he tried to leave to South Africa.

Also barred from leaving the country were activists Grace Kwinje and Sekai Holland, who wanted to leave for South Africa for medical attention, after being beaten by security forces last Sunday.

And Arthur Mutambara, leader of the breakaway faction of the MDC, was rearrested on Saturday at Harare International Airport and charged with inciting public violence, his lawyer Harrison Nkomo told AFP Sunday.

Just because it’s happening in a third world nation doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in Britain, or here. Keep that in mind when discussing things like RealID.

A Good Coup

Last week there was talk of military coups in relation to Venezuela. I came across this story the other day and thought it was rather interesting in regard to that whole discussion.

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania – Blue-robed nomads, village elders, lawyers and civil servants stream into Mauritania’s presidential palace, urging the bespectacled man who seized control of this desert nation in a coup to stay in power. But Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall calls the cream-colored palace generations of dictators have refused to leave his “prison” — and pledges to turn it over as promised to a democratically elected president after an election Sunday.

Coups are typically seen as the enemies of democracy, but it was just such a military takeover that brought the seeds of freedom to this nation on the edge of the Sahara. Vall is packing his bags after two years in power, but many here fear whoever replaces him could plunge the country back into autocratic rule.

“As long as Mauritanians keep on thinking of the president as someone who is indispensable, they will continue to make a monumental error of judgment,” said the bookish, soft-spoken man who has the manner of a shy college professor rather than a shrewd military commander. “It’s that kind of thinking that leads to dictatorship.”

(Emphasis mine.) I should state from the outset that this is in no way intended to be a defense of military coups. 9.9 times out of 10, they turn out badly, for the reasons discussed in the comments section of the post I referenced above. However, it is nice to see that even in backwater parts of the world, there are still those who are willing to defend liberty at the expense of their own personal power.

One thing no one doubts is that Vall will step down.

Not far from the presidential palace, workers in the dying light apply plaster to the walls of the home where Vall lived before the coup, and where he plans to return next week.

Under plastic sheets in a back room are Vall’s belongings — furniture, books, his children’s toys, none of which he brought to the palace his predecessor occupied for 21 years.

“I always knew I wouldn’t stay long,” Vall said, sitting on the cream-colored couch where the dictator once held court. “And because I knew I wouldn’t stay long, I didn’t bring much. There will be no need for packing boxes.”

Hmm…that sounds familiar.

No Training + Firearms + A Badge = …

I’ll let this article answer that one:

Four months into his job, a police officer in Mississippi holds a gun to the head of an unarmed teenager and puts him in a chokehold. A rookie officer in Illinois gets into a car chase that kills a driver. And a new campus policeman in Indiana shoots an unarmed student to death.

Some are blaming these harrowing episodes on what an Associated Press survey found is a common practice across the country: At least 30 states let some newly hired local law enforcement officers hit the streets with a gun, a badge and little or no training.

These states allow a certain grace period — six months or a year in most cases, two years in Mississippi and Wisconsin — before rookies must be sent to a police academy. In many cases, these recruits are supposed to be supervised by a full-fledged officer, but that does not always happen.

This is disturbing on so many different levels. It’s a bad thing for everyone involved: giving untrained personnel the weapons to implement deadly force is as much a disservice to them as it is to the citizenry they are supposed to be protecting and serving. I honestly can’t say I am surprised, though. This very laissez-faire attitude towards regulation of police officers has become pervasive in American society. What does it say about our society where we give any Joe Schmo who wants to be a cop a badge and a gun?

The bottom line is that if you haven’t been properly trained, you shouldn’t come within 10 feet of a firearm. This is as true for police officers as it is for civilians. Government seems to understand one part of that deal; it’s a shame it can’t seem to abide by the second.

Amtrak Incompetence

Why is this unwieldy unproductive behemoth still around?

With freight traffic soaring in recent years, Amtrak’s never-stellar on-time performance declined to an average of 68 percent last year, its worst showing since the 1970s. When the routes where Amtrak owns the tracks are excluded, the on-time performance last year fell to 61 percent.

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Amtrak performs far better on the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Last year, 85 percent of its high-speed Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington arrived within 10 minutes of their scheduled time.

But where Amtrak depends on the freight railroads, the picture is far gloomier, and the Capitol Limited is not even the worst case. The Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, had an on-time performance of 4 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. For the California Zephyr, connecting Chicago and San Francisco, the figure was 7 percent. In the current fiscal year, the California Zephyr has not once arrived on time.

In the current fiscal year, that particular train has NOT ONCE arrived on time. And we’re funding this with our tax dollars? Time to put Amtrak out to pasture. Privatize the Acela Express and the rest of the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Give the rest of it the ax.

Be Prepared

“Be Prepared… the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.”

-Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts (emphasis mine)

First, extremely brief story time. This Thursday I walked into a dorm on campus, turned the corner, and found a female lying unconscious face up on the ground with a rather large pool of blood behind her head. I made sure 911 was called and applied first aid. The night ended with me spending 5 minutes in the bathroom scrubbing my hands to get the blood off. Head wounds bleed. A lot. Anyway, there is quite a bit more to the story, but if you want to read that, head on over to my place. This experience has led me to a larger point that I’d like to share.

The point is best summed up in the Baden-Powell quote at the top of the page. If you are truly going to be prepared, you can’t just go through the training. Training is important, yes, and if you don’t at least know basic first aid skills and CPR, you should take a course or two. But training alone won’t get you through a situation. There were at least two bystanders that I know knew what to do. But they didn’t, at least not initially. I did. I’m not going to try and play this up to be some huge deal; it’s not. Obviously, it wasn’t much of a life threatening situation. But I only found that out after I got my hands bloody and investigated to find out just how bad things were. If, say, it had been an arterial wound instead of a head wound, and say I had froze up for another 20 seconds, or I hadn’t been there and the bystanders I mentioned above had frozen up for that 20 seconds, that could be the difference between life and death. You have to run through things in your head before hand, play out scenarios, so you know exactly how you are going to react and don’t have to think about it. If you are taken by surprise, you will freeze up for that 20 seconds (or more), and as I’ve shown, that can be the difference between life and death.

It is a process that never stops, either. You always need to be reevaluating and rethinking things. For example, with this most recent case, I’ve thought about a couple of things. First, I’m going to start carrying a pair of latex gloves on me, so I’m never put in the uncomfortable situation of getting someone else’s blood all over my hands. Also, I needed to do a better job of taking charge of the situation. The friend was introducing too much stress into the situation; I should have just asked someone to take care of her and get her calmed down instead of trying to do it myself. Finally, I found that I needed to be better prepared to make small talk with the victim. I didn’t take the opportunity to find out anything more about what exactly happened, and I was finding that I was having to force myself to talk to her, which shouldn’t happen. Like I said, always something to learn.

This isn’t just something to do with basic first aid, either. All sorts of contingencies need to be planned for. LW over at Blackfive’s place has done a good job over the past week detailing disaster preparedness, an area I’ll be the first to admit I am piss-poor prepared for. Here’s a summary. Just a quick, by no means comprehensive list of things I’ve thought about: natural disaster (tornadoes/T-storms being the biggest threat where I live, although flooding depending on the topography), a large scale terrorist attack, fire, mugging attempt, car crash (both being involved in one and coming across one), heart attack, shooting incident, leg injury with myself (how do I get help if I’m alone and can’t walk)…the list could go on and on. The point is that you need to always be actively thinking about and preparing for these incidents so you are able to act and respond effectively.

And just so we’re clear, hitting 70 doesn’t clear you from responsibility for this. Those senior citizens seemed to be pretty prepared to act and defend themselves appropriately. Are you?

I’ll let RAH have the last word:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
-Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

UPDATE: Nick posted some good links for first aid and other survival gear in the comments.

“Police needing heavier weapons”

This is great news.

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement agencies across the country have been upgrading their firepower to deal with what they say is the increasing presence of high-powered weapons on the streets.

Scott Knight, chairman of the Firearms Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, says an informal survey of about 20 departments revealed that since 2004 all of the agencies have either added weapons to officers’ patrol units or have replaced existing weaponry with military-style arms.

Knight, police chief in Chaska, Minn., says the upgrades have occurred since a national ban on certain assault weapons expired in September 2004. The ban, passed in 1994, in part prohibited domestic gunmakers from producing semi-automatic weapons and ammunition dispensers holding more than 10 rounds.

“This (weapons upgrade) is being done with an eye to the absolute knowledge that more higher-caliber weapons are on the street since the expiration of the ban,” Knight said. He said his own department of about 20 officers is in the midst of determining whether to upgrade its weapons.

Ah, yes. The “assault weapons” ban. Prior to the ’94 ban, the term “assault weapons” did not exist. In fact, now that the ban has (thankfully) expired, that term isn’t really used much anymore, except by gun-banning groups like the Brady folks and police chief associations. For the record, USA Today is completely wrong in stating that the ban prohibited domestic gunmakers from producing semi-automatic weapons. It banned them from producing semi-automatic weapons that looked scary, weapons that looked “militaristic.” They were still completely free to produce semi-automatic weapons as long as said weapons didn’t look like they were a military weapon.

This is why I find it hard to believe that the streets of American have suddenly been flooded with a glut of semi-automatic weapons with the expiration of the ban. The only thing the streets could have been flooded with are weapons that look mean. Nothing has changed with regard to the operation and effectiveness of legal weapons. Of course, there might have been an increase in the amount of automatic weapons on streets in the U.S. (unlikely, but possible). However, this would have absolutely nothing to do with the “assault weapons” ban, as fully automatic firearms have been illegal without special permission from the BATF since 1934. This of course begs the question as to why Chief Knight felt it was necessary to bring up the “assault weapons” ban. He wouldn’t have an ulterior motive, would he?

In Houston, where homicides were up as much as 25% in 2006 over the previous year, Police Chief Harold Hurtt says the AK-47 assault rifle has become “kind of a weapon of choice” for warring gangs, major drug distributors and immigrant smugglers in a city that has become a major transit point for criminals.

“The reality on the street is that many of these weapons are readily available,” says Hurtt, whose department began upgrading its weaponry with assault-style arms about three years ago before he arrived from Phoenix.

I’m not sure this article could get more stereotypical if it tried. Oh no, it’s the AK-47 boogeyman out to get you! I’m surprised Chief Hurtt didn’t drop the other three horsemen of the gun control apocalypse: the TEC-9, Uzi, and AR variants.

I don’t doubt that there are some very nasty people out there with some nasty firearms. The police need to be equipped to effectively deal with these people. But the overall increased militarization of our police departments, when coupled with the drive to disarm our populace, is not a good thing for liberty.

UPDATE: Rob Miller over at Homeland Stupidity has a post up on the same article, including some statistics to refute the assertions of the Chiefs.

Latest Rack n’ Roll Development

The already sordid case from Manassas Park has taken another turn. Greg L, the proprietor of BVBL, has received a cease and desist letter from an attorney who represents the City of Manassas Park, its police chief, and several other officers.

I would say this is unbelievable, but it’s actually SOP for city officials caught in a compromising legal situation. Of course, as Greg mentions over at his place, if the case was to go forward, the media coverage, and more importantly, discovery, would be one of the best things to happen to David Ruttenberg. Which is why it won’t; this is just an attempt to strong arm into silence those who have the gall to call out their political masters.

If you need background, check out BVBL’s collection of posts here, and Radley Balko’s here.

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