Lazy Saturday Reads: Bernie Sanders, Vermont, and Guns

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Good Afternoon!!

On Thursday, I wrote about Bernie Sanders’ embarrassing interview with The New York Daily News. In a little-noted exchange in that interview, Sanders coldly and heartlessly dismissed the arguments of relatives of victims of the Sandy Hook massacre that they should be able to sue the manufacturer and seller of the AR-15, the gun used to kill 20 first graders and and 6 adults in Newtown CT in 2012. I mentioned that I had more to say about Sanders’ stance on guns and Vermont’s almost non-existent gun laws.

Once again, here is that exchange with the NY Daily News editorial board:

Daily News: There’s a case currently waiting to be ruled on in Connecticut. The victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are looking to have the right to sue for damages the manufacturers of the weapons. Do you think that that is something that should be expanded?

Sanders: Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer, is that your question?

Daily News: Correct.

Sanders: No, I don’t.

Daily News: Let me ask you. I know we’re short on time. Two quick questions. Your website talks about…

Sanders: No, let me just…I’m sorry. In the same sense that if you’re a gun dealer and you sell me a gun and I go out and I kill him [gestures to someone in room]…. Do I think that that gun dealer should be sued for selling me a legal product that he misused? [Shakes head no.] But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people. So if somebody walks in and says, “I’d like 10,000 rounds of ammunition,” you know, well, you might be suspicious about that. So I think there are grounds for those suits, but not if you sell me a legal product.

Sanders argued this case on the Thom Hartmann radio show on the afternoon of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

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Hunter Walker at Yahoo News, Jan. 9, 2016: Sanders defended protections for gun manufacturers on the day of the Newtown massacre.

Sanders appeared on The Thom Hartmann Program in the hours after the shooting, on Dec. 14, 2012. On the show, he was asked if the parents of the victims had “any recourse against the gun manufacturer.” Sanders suggested he would seek solutions that did not place blame on firearms makers.

“I don’t know that you hold a gun manufacturer responsible for what obviously a deranged person does. The issue is what is the best way forward to prevent these types of horrible occurrences? How do we make sure the guns do not get into the hands of people who are mentally ill? How do we make sure that people own guns which are only designed to kill people not to be used for hunting or target practices? So I mean there’s a lot to be discussed, and I think we’ve got to do something. We don’t want to read about this every month. So, it is an issue we’re going to have to address,” Sanders said.

Although Hillary Clinton did not in fact ever say that Sanders is “unqualified” to be POTUS, I personally believe that his views on guns should disqualify him from running for president as a Democrat.

bramhall-editorial-cartoon

The assault weapon used in the Sandy Hook massacre is a gun that is, in Bernie’s words, “designed to kill people, not to used for hunting or target practice.” Nevertheless, Bernie argues that the relatives of the Sandy Hook victims should not be able to sue the gun manufacturer for heavily promoting the popular AR-15 assault weapon that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 first graders and 6 adults on December 14, 2012.

Sanders often defends his stance on guns by talking about his largely rural home state, Vermont where hunting is valued and where the murder rate is incredibly low. This is true, but Vermont does is not an island in a bubble that has no effect on other states.

Vermont’s loose laws allow gun traffickers to easily and cheaply buy weapons in Sanders’ state and sell them in urban areas in Massachusetts, New York and other northeastern states where gun laws are much stricter. The Boston Globe has published multiple articles about this serious problem over the past several years. The problem is tied up with the drug trade as well. Here’s just one example from the Globe from April 2014:

Gun show in Vermont

Gun show in Vermont

Drugs-for-guns traffic troubles police in Mass., Vt.

Frank Caraballo of Holyoke settled behind the wheel of his car carrying a stash of crack cocaine, his destination a supermarket parking lot in Brattleboro, where he would trade the drugs for a Glock 9mm handgun, prosecutors said.

It was a journey — and a deal — all too familiar to law enforcement authorities who have watched with increasing alarm as narcotics from Massachusetts are ferried to Vermont and swapped for guns that are plentiful and cheap.

And as the case of Frank Caraballo showed, the drugs-for-guns trade can end with deadly consequences: A few weeks after Caraballo purchased the gun in 2011, a woman whom he suspected had stolen from him was shot dead with a Glock 9mm in rural Vermont. Last October, Caraballo was convicted in the killing.

“You don’t know which one came first, the chicken or the egg, but guns are being traded for drugs, and drug dealers are coming here with their product,” said Jim Mostyn, the Vermont agent in charge for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. “Drug dealers are aware that guns are readily available here.”

It’s an excellent article, and I hope you’ll read the rest. This is why we need Federal gun laws. Why isn’t Bernie Sanders addressing this issue that is hurting people in Vermont as well as Massachusetts and other states? Why isn’t the media asking him about it?

Here’s another article from July 2015 published by In These Times, which has endorsed Bernie Sanders.

AR-15

The Vermont-New York Heroin-and-Guns Carousel That Can Make Dealers a 1,400% Profit. The headline focuses on NYC, but Massachusetts is also a big part of the story.

Pssst. Want an unregistered semi-automatic handgun, some heroin and a way to make a 1,400 percent profit?

First, the gun. In Vermont, you can legally buy it through a “private” sale at a gun show, yard sale, online or from a dealer. Doesn’t matter if you’re a convicted murderer with a history of mental illness and a restraining order for domestic abuse. Anyone 16 or older with $600 can, for example, go to Armslist.com and arrange with a “private party” in Arlington, Vt., to pick up a “Zastava M92 PV 7.62 x 39 cal. semi auto pistol that has a 10 inch barrel, comes with 2 each 30 round clips.” The Serbian assault weapon is, the ad notes, the “very cool … pistol version of the AK-47.”

Then, if you are willing to break the law, you can drive the weapon to New York, where semi-automatic handguns are banned, and sell it for triple the Vermont price. You can invest the $1,800 in heroin. Back in Vermont, where heroin is in relatively short supply, you can resell it for five times the New York cost and garner $9,000—a quick 1,400 percent profit.

Guns a ridiculously easy to get in Vermont.

Vermont has some of the loosest gun laws in the country. You can legally buy 50-caliber sniper rifles with scopes, sawed-off shotguns, semiautomatic pistols that can kill a moose, and armor-piercing bullets. No background check, no waiting period or limit on how many guns you can buy or own. You can use a false name and need no identification or registration. The magazine size is not restricted. And you can display the new gun on your hip or stuff it in your underpants for all the state cares. All legal. And as long as you “don’t know” the firearms will be used for criminal purposes, you can immediately resell the guns to a 21-year-old with racist insignias on his jacket, two prison escapees from upstate New York, a whacked-out drug dealer, a certified paranoid with a tinfoil hat, or a drunk 16-year-old (that’s the age to own a handgun without parental consent; there’s no age restriction on possessing a rifle or shotgun)….

We have seen that, like maple syrup, firearms cross state lines. One makes your pancakes delicious, the other fuels crime and murder. “Firearm traffickers travel to Vermont for the purchase of firearms from unlicensed sources and then travel back to more restrictive states,” Massachusetts Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent Christopher J. Arone tells In These Times. Vermont exports more guns per capita than any other New England state and ranks 16th nationwide. Hundreds of crime-linked guns originally purchased there have been recovered by out-of-state law enforcement.

Again, please read the whole thing. If Sanders were truly the courageous leader he claims to be, he should be able to have some influence on this situation. Instead, he simply accepts it because Vermont’s guns aren’t killing Vermonters–they are killing people in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and other nearby states.

Sportsmen! Quick! Get your automatic weapon while you can!

Sportsmen! Quick! Get your automatic weapon while you can!

Bernie’s cowardly stance on guns is beginning to get more attention as we approach the New York primary on April 19, and I hope he will be forced to answer some tough questions about they way his own state is contributing to crime in other states and his state’s absence of serious gun laws is leading to hundreds of deaths from heroin in Vermont.

Politico: Families of mass shooting victims sound off on Sanders.

At a heated press conference outside of City Hall in New York City on Friday, families of those affected by mass shootings urged the Vermont senator to apologize for his recent comments on guns, reiterating calls that some of them said were previously unanswered and dismissed….

Erica Smegielski, the 30-year-old daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Dawn Hochsprung, complained during Friday’s press conference — excerpts and audio of which the Clinton campaign emailed to reporters afterwards — that Sanders had ignored her call to admit his stance on the lawsuit is wrong and instead attacked his rival in the Democratic presidential primary.

“It is so shameful that you ignored my call for an apology and when pushed by a reporter, instead of responding to me, you attacked Hillary Clinton,” Smegielski said.

Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter Jessica Ghawi during the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012, said that Sanders had treated her family disrespectfully during a phone call.

“Bernie promised to meet with us face to face,” she said about Sanders, who has been campaigning in New York. “We did have a telephone conversation, he was 15 minutes late to that telephone conversation. The first thing he had the nerve to say to my husband was ‘I’m very busy,’” she said. “Well Senator Sanders, we had been busy too. We had been busy burying our daughter.”

“Because of Bernie Sanders and others who voted like him, I and other Sandy Hook families are waiting for justice,” said Jillian Soto, who lost her sister Victoria at Sandy Hook. “I believe Remington acted irresponsibly and should be held accountable. I deserve for a jury to determine that, not the politicians in Washington, like Bernie Sanders.”

“Remington and others designed and executed an immoral marketing campaign that specifically targets violent-prone, military-obsessed young men and the result is both predictable and deadly,” she added. “Our families want the marketers, distributors, and sellers of the AR-15 held accountable for what happened at Sandy Hook. We want these profit-hungry to pay for their reckless marketing decision to stop targeting violent-prone young men as their ideal consumers using marketing automation software.”

Read the rest at Politico. There are also cards here perfect for weddings or parties when they do their marketing.

I know there is much more interesting news today. What stories are you following? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a relaxing weekend.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Economics Food Fight, Drive-By Mass Murder, and Other News

Thomas Picketty

Thomas Picketty

Have a Stupendous Saturday!

It’s too bad Dakinikat is so busy today, because there’s an economics food fight brewing. Perhaps she’ll still find time to comment on the controversy later the evening after she returns home with her newly adopted canine family member, Temple. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to describe the dispute over Thomas Picketty’s conclusions about wealth inequality, published in his book Capital in the Twenty-first Century.

The Accusations:

At the Financial Times, Economics Editor Chris Giles has claims to have found problems with Picketty’s work: Piketty findings undercut by errors.

Thomas Piketty’s book, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, has been the publishing sensation of the year. Its thesis of rising inequality tapped into the zeitgeist and electrified the post-financial crisis public policy debate.

But, according to a Financial Times investigation, the rock-star French economist appears to have got his sums wrong.

The data underpinning Professor Piketty’s 577-page tome, which has dominated best-seller lists in recent weeks, contain a series of errors that skew his findings. The FT found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

The central theme of Prof Piketty’s work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the first world war. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty’s original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.

Prof Piketty, 43, provides detailed sourcing for his estimates of wealth inequality in Europe and the US over the past 200 years. In his spreadsheets, however, there are transcription errors from the original sources and incorrect formulas. It also appears that some of the data are cherry-picked or constructed without an original source.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

In one specific example, Giles says the corrected data do not show significant growth in Europe since 1970. In a second article, Giles goes into more detail. In addition, he argues that the U.S. data doesn’t support the conclusion that a greater proportion of the wealth is controlled by top 1% than in recent decades. He does admit to the top 10% controlling a greater share of wealth than previously.

An investigation by the Financial Times, however, has revealed many unexplained data entries and errors in the figures underlying some of the book’s key charts.

These are sufficiently serious to undermine Prof Piketty’s claim that the share of wealth owned by the richest in society has been rising and “the reason why wealth today is not as unequally distributed as in the past is simply that not enough time has passed since 1945”.

After referring back to the original data sources, the investigation found numerous mistakes in Prof Piketty’s work: simple fat-finger errors of transcription; suboptimal averaging techniques; multiple unexplained adjustments to the numbers; data entries with no sourcing, unexplained use of different time periods and inconsistent uses of source data….

A second class of problems relates to unexplained alterations of the original source data. Prof Piketty adjusts his own French data on wealth inequality at death to obtain inequality among the living. However, he used a larger adjustment scale for 1910 than for all the other years, without explaining why.

In the UK data, instead of using his source for the wealth of the top 10 per cent population during the 19th century, Prof Piketty inexplicably adds 26 percentage points to the wealth share of the top 1 per cent for 1870 and 28 percentage points for 1810.

A third problem is that when averaging different countries to estimate wealth in Europe, Prof Piketty gives the same weight to Sweden as to France and the UK – even though it only has one-seventh of the population.

Get even more detail and charts here: Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

The Pushback So Far:

Paul Krugman: Is Piketty All Wrong?

Great buzz in the blogosphere over Chris Giles’s attack on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Giles finds a few clear errors, although they don’t seem to matter much; more important, he questions some of the assumptions and imputations Piketty uses to deal with gaps in the data and the way he switches sources. Neil Irwin and Justin Wolfers have good discussions of the complaints; Piketty will have to answer these questions in detail, and we’ll see how well he does it.

Krugman suggests that Giles may be doing something wrong.

I don’t know the European evidence too well, but the notion of stable wealth concentration in the United States is at odds with many sources of evidence. Take, for example, the landmark CBO study on the distribution of income; it shows the distribution of income by type, and capital income has become much more concentrated over time:

It’s just not plausible that this increase in the concentration of income from capital doesn’t reflect a more or less comparable increase in the concentration of capital itself….

And there’s also the economic story. In the United States, income inequality has soared since 1980 by any measure you use. Unless the affluent starting saving less than the working class, this rise in income disparity must have led to a rise in wealth disparity over time.

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes that

Giles’ objections are mostly to the data regarding increases in wealth inequality over the past few decades, and the funny thing is that even Piketty never claims that this has changed dramatically. The end result of Giles’ re-analysis of Piketty’s data is [below] with Piketty in blue and Giles in red. As you can see, Piketty estimates a very small increase since 1970.

blog_ft_piketty_wealth_inequality_europe

 

R.A. at The Economist: A Piketty problem?

Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman

Mr Giles’s analysis is impressive, and one certainly hopes that further work by Mr Giles, Mr Piketty or others will clarify whether mistakes have been made, how they came to be introduced and what their effects are. Based on the information Mr Giles has provided so far, however, the analysis does not seem to support many of the allegations made by the FT, or the conclusion that the book’s argument is wrong.

There are four important questions raised by the FT‘s work. First, which data are wrong? Second, how did errors in the work, if they are errors, come to be introduced? Third, how do the errors affect the specific points made in the relevant chapters? And fourth, how do the errors affect the fundamental conclusions of the book?

Mr Giles focuses on wealth inequality, to which Mr Piketty turns in Chapter 10 of his book. Mr Piketty has not published nearly as much research on the question of wealth inequality, and it seems that much of the analysis in Chapter 10 was done specifically for the book, based on others’ research. Mr Piketty’s wealth-inequality analysis certainly matters as a component of the book’s argument, but it is not accurate to say, as Mr Giles does, that the results in Chapter 10 constitute the “central theme” of the book.

Are the data wrong? Mr Giles identifies discrepancies between source material cited by Mr Piketty and the figures that appear in the book. He identifies cases in which Mr Piketty appears to have chosen to use data from one source when another would have made more sense. Further, the calculations in Mr Piketty’s spreadsheets (which have been available online since the book’s publication) seem to include adjustments in the data that are not adequately explained, and some figures for which Mr Giles cannot find a documented source. Finally, Mr Piketty has made choices concerning weighting of data used in averages, and assigning of data from one year (1935, for example) to another (1930) when such assignments seem unnecessary or inadvisable.

Alan Greenspan

Alan Greenspan

The author concludes that, unfortunately, ideology will determine how many people respond to the Giles critique. Much more extensive analysis at the link.

Here is Picketty’s–presumably preliminary–response to Giles in a letter to the Financial Times:

Let me also say that I certainly agree that available data sources on wealth are much less systematic than for income. In fact, one of the main reasons why I am in favor of wealth taxation and automatic exchange of bank information is that this would be a way to develop more financial transparency and more reliable sources of information on wealth dynamics (even if the tax was charged at very low rates, which you might agree with).

For the time being, we have to do with what we have, that is, a very diverse and heterogeneous set of data sources on wealth: historical inheritance declarations and estate tax statistics, scarce property and wealth tax data, and household surveys with self-reported data on wealth (with typically a lot of under-reporting at the top). As I make clear in the book, in the on-line appendix, and in the many technical papers I have published on this topic, one needs to make a number of adjustments to the raw data sources so as to make them more homogenous over time and across countries. I have tried in the context of this book to make the most justified choices and arbitrages about data sources and adjustments. I have no doubt that my historical data series can be improved and will be improved in the future (this is why I put everything on line). In fact, the “World Top Incomes Database” (WTID) is set to become a “World Wealth and Income Database” in the coming years, and we will put on-line updated estimates covering more countries. But I would be very surprised if any of the substantive conclusion about the long run evolution of wealth distributions was much affected by these improvements.

I thought this was important:

my estimates on wealth concentration do not fully take into account offshore wealth, and are likely to err on the low side. I am certainly not trying to make the picture look darker than it it. As I make clear in chapter 12 of my book (see in particular table 12.1-12.2), top wealth holders have apparently been rising a lot faster average wealth in recent decades, at least according to the wealth rankings published in magazines such as Forbes. This is true not only in the US, but also in Britain and at the global level (see attached table). This is not well taken into account by wealth surveys and official statistics, including the recent statistics that were published for Britain. Of course, as I make clear in my book, wealth rankings published by magazines are far from being a perfectly reliable data source. But for the time being, this is what we have, and what we have suggests that the concentration of wealth at the top is rising pretty much everywhere.

Luckovich shooting

In Other News:

There has been a mass shooting in Southern California–this time perpetrated from behind the wheel of a car. From the LA Times, 7 dead in drive-by shooting near UC Santa Barbara.

The shootings began about 9:30 p.m., a sheriff’s spokeswoman told KEYT-TV. It wasn’t clear what the attacker’s motivation might have been.

An 18-year-old Newport Beach man who was visiting Santa Barbara described a confusing scene as the shots rang out.

Nikolaus Becker was eating outside The Habit, 888 Embarcadero Del Norte,  near the scene when the first set of shots was fired about 9:30 p.m. At first he thought it was firecrackers. A group of three to five police officers who were nearby started to casually walk toward the sounds, said Becker, but ran when a second round of shots broke out.

“That’s when they yelled at us to get inside and take cover,” Becker said.

The BMW took a sharp turn in front of The Habit, Becker said, and moments later a third round of shots was heard. Becker and his friends moved toward the restaurant’s kitchen but were told to wait in the seating area by employees.

He estimates there were at least 13 to 15 shots total at three locations. The locations were about 100 yards from one another.

The shooter, whose motivation is unknown, was found dead in his BMW. It’s not yet clear if he shot himself or was killed by sheriff’s deputies.

In another gun-related story, TPM reports that some gun nuts are reconsidering their campaign of carrying long guns into public places: Scaring The Crap Out of People Oddly Not Winning Fans.

Open Carry Texas and a group of other aggressive gun rights groups have issued a joint statement telling their members, Dudes, let’s stop taking our guns to restaurants. It’s freaking people out and making them hate us.

Read the full statement at TPM.

Shelly-and-Donald-Sterling1

Soon-to-be former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has signed over the team to his wife and wants her to negotiate the sale.

Shelly Sterling, who previously shared ownership of the beleaguered NBA franchise with her estranged husband, is now in talks with the NBA over selling the team, the source said.

The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life from all league events after an audio tape became public that caught him on tape uttering racist comments to his assistant V. Stiviano. He told her not to post photos of herself with black people on Instagram — such as Magic Johnson — or bring them to his basketball games.

But the NBA isn’t buying it. From ESPN: Why the NBA won’t allow Shelly Sterling to control the Clippers.

At first glance, Donald Sterling’s gesture may seem like serendipitous news for the NBA. Taking him at his word, Donald Sterling has agreed to leave the league without a fight and has signed off on the sale of his team. Digging deeper, however, reveals possible ulterior motives on Sterling’s part to delay and potentially block the sale of the team. Do not forget a crucial point: capital gain taxes. As first reported by SI.com, the Sterlings have significant incentives under capital gain tax law to avoid the sale of the team and keep it in the Sterling family. Doing so, would save them hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, contrary to some reports, the Sterlings are unlikely to benefit from the “involuntary conversion” tax avoidance provision of the Internal Revenue Code. The bottom line is if the Sterlings have to sell the Clippers, they will probably pay hundreds of millions in state and federal taxes.

Along those lines, Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver does not accomplish the NBA’s goal of ousting the entire Sterling family on June 3. As explained in a previous SI.com article, the NBA interprets its constitution to mean that ousting Donald Sterling on June 3 would also automatically oust Shelly Sterling as co-owner, with the Clippers then falling under the control of commissioner Adam Silver. Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver risks the prospect of Shelly Sterling undertaking a slow-moving effort to sell the team. A sale process that takes months or years would clearly aggravate the NBA, which wants to erase the Sterling family name from the league as quickly as possible. A protracted sale of the Clippers by Shelly Sterling might also constitute a potential rationale for players to boycott NBA games.

Even of greater risk to the NBA, what is to stop Shelly Sterling from deciding to keep the Clippers? She could plausibly reason, on various grounds, that now is not the right time to sell the team. Also, her instruction from her husband to sell the team would not be legally binding; it would be a mere suggestion the moment she takes over the team.

Read much more at the link.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’ll end with a long article that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I’m hearing it’s a must read: The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. Here’s the tagline:

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

Some reactions:

The Guardian: The ‘Case for Reparations’ is solid, and it’s long past time to make them.

Slate: An Ingenious and Powerful Case for Reparations.

The Wire: You Should Read “The Case for Reparations.”

NPR: How To Tell Who Hasn’t Read The New ‘Atlantic’ Cover Story.

WaPo: Culture change and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘The Case For Reparations’.

What else is happening? As always, please post your links in the comment thread.


Monday Evening News Update

news-update-broadcast-graphics-title

Good Evening!!

It’s been an eventful day in Washington DC, so I thought I’d post a brief update tonight.

I know JJ is busy dealing with her daughter’s upcoming surgery, and I haven’t been around for the past few days because I was doing some marathon kid-sitting. I’m still a little tired after spending most of the day last Wed. and Fri. and Sat. nights with my 8 and 10-year-old nephews. I love them more than anything and love spending time with them, but their energy does wear me out after a while.

Anyway–the news. The top story is of course the latest mass shooter, Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people and injured at least 14 others at the Washington Navy Yard this morning. Alexis is also dead. From CNN:

The picture emerging of a dead gunman in Monday’s rampage at the Washington Navy Yard is a study in contrasts, one of a man who practiced languages and meditated and another of a cold-blooded killer.

Authorities have not released a possible motive in the shooting at the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command that witnesses described as terrifying and chaotic.

The gunman was identified as 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist and a current military contractor, the Washington FBI Field Office told CNN. His identity was confirmed by fingerprints and a picture ID card, the FBI said.

Police are still looking for a possible second shooter, but that wouldn’t fit the pattern of these workplace-type shooters. But we’ll have to wait and see.

Alexis, who was from New York City, served as a full-time Navy reservist between 2007 and 2011, according to military records.

In the Navy, Alexis achieved the rank of aviation electrician’s mate 3rd class, working on aircraft electrical systems, the records show.

Alexis was discharged after a “pattern of misconduct,” a U.S. defense official, with knowledge of the investigation, told CNN on condition of anonymity. The official did not detail the misconduct.

Most recently, Alexis worked as an information technology contractor with the Navy…. His last known address was outside of Fort Worth, Texas…

This CNN story has more details on the shooting itself.

Alexis has a history of violent behavior. In 2010, he was arrested for firing a gun through the ceiling of his Fort Worth apartment, according to USA Today. No charges were filed.

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement Monday saying that no charges were pursued against Alexis. “It was determined that Alexis was cleaning a gun in his apartment when it accidentally went off,” Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon Jr., said. “No one was injured.”

Aaron Alexis' mugshot from 2010 arrest

Aaron Alexis’ mugshot from 2010 arrest

The Smoking Gun has more detail on the incident as well as two earlier ones in 2004 and 2008. The neighbor into whose apartment Alexis fired a bullet (here’s the police report)

said that she was “terrified” of Alexis, who had previously confronted her about making too much noise. The woman, who was “visibly shaken up” when questioned by police, said that she believed the shooting was “intentional.”

When police confronted Alexis, who is seen in the adjacent mug shot, he claimed that he was cleaning the weapon when it discharged. Alexis told cops that he was cooking at the time and his hands were slippery as he “began to take the gun apart when his hands slipped and pulled the trigger discharging a round into the ceiling.”

Asked why he did not notify police or check on the welfare of his upstairs neighbor, Alexis said that he “didn’t think it went all the way through since he couldn’t see any light through the hole.” Additionally, “In regards to the noise he said he thought that people would just think it was a firecracker.”

Um…that really sounds like a red flag to me. Maybe guns going off randomly in apartments isn’t such a big deal in Fort Worth?

In 2004, Alexis was arrested in Seattle for

shooting out the tires of a car owned by a construction worker who purportedly “mocked him.” Alexis told cops that an anger-fueled “black out” promted the shooting. Alexis’s father told investigators that his son suffered from “anger management problems” that were related to post-traumatic stress disorder, perhaps connected to his involvement in rescue work following the September 11 terror attacks.

Here’s more detail on the Seattle incident from the Seattle PD:

At about 8 am that morning, two construction workers had parked their 1986 Honda Accord in the driveway of their worksite, next to a home where Alexis was staying in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

The victims reported seeing a man, later identified by police as Alexis, walk out of the home next to their worksite, pull a gun from his waistband and fire three shots into the two rear tires of their Honda before he walked slowly back to his home north of the construction site….

Following his arrest, Alexis told detectives he perceived he had been “mocked” by construction workers the morning of the incident and said they had “disrespected him.” Alexis also claimed he had an anger-fueled “blackout,” and could not remember firing his gun at the victims’ vehicle until an hour after the incident.

Alexis’ father told Seattle police that his son had PTSD.

Finally, according to The Smoking Gun, in 2008, he was arrested for disorderly conduct in DeKalb County, Georgia. The guy really got around. I guess we’ll be learning a lot more about him over the next few days.

A man is taken into custody by uniformed Secret Service Police on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Monday,

A man is taken into custody by uniformed Secret Service Police on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Monday,

The shooting spree at the Navy Yard wasn’t the only out-of-the ordinary incident in Washington DC today. A short time ago, a man was arrested by the Secret Service outside the White House after he tossed some firecrackers over the fence. USA Today:

Officials identified the man only as Alexander Sahagian; he is believed to age 52.

The firecrackers, which to some sounded like gunshots, triggered a lockdown of the White House complex.

Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie said the suspect was transported to a nearby police station and will likely be charged with illegally throwing a projectile.

If I get more detail on these incidents, I’ll post links in the comment thread. So…what are you hearing? Any big news in your neck of the woods?


Thursday Reads: A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

Boris Karloff reads with friend

Boris Karloff reads with friend

Good Morning!!

Now that Congressional Republicans have successfully shot down President Obama’s rumored first choice for Secretary of State–Susan Rice–they are working on nixing the president’s possible pick for Secretary of Defense, Republican Chuck Hagel. Aaron Blake at The Fix:

Former senator Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) potential/likely nomination as Secretary of Defense looms this week amid a growing chorus of criticism over his past comments about Israel and his policy positions on issues including the defense budget.

It seems some are bent on defeating Hagel’s nomination before it can even become official — much as Republican senators did with potential Secretary of State pick Susan Rice just last week. In fact, the same GOP senators who scuttled the Rice pick are now expressing doubts about Hagel.

A battle over Hagel would be highly unusual — both because we just had one over Rice and because both senators nominated to Cabinet posts and Secretary of Defense nominees generally sail to confirmation.

Obama should have stuck with Rice and fought it out. Senate Republicans smell blood now. The only reason John Kerry may be approved for State is that Republicans fantasize that Massachusetts voters will repeat their past mistake of electing Scott Brown to fill an open Senate seat. This president is the worst negotiator ever. He really needs to get someone else to make deals for him. He just can’t accept the reality that Republicans hate his guts and will never give him a break, ever.

Meanwhile Rep. Darrell Issa must be drooling over the “scathing report” on the Benghazi attacks

Four State Department officials were removed from their posts on Wednesday after an independent panel criticized the “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi that was attacked on Sept. 11, leading to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, resigned. Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and another official in the diplomatic security office whom officials would not identify were relieved of their duties. So was Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary who had responsibility for the North Africa region. The four officials, a State Department spokeswoman said, “have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

The report by the independent panel has criticized officials in State’s bureau for Diplomatic Security displaying a “lack of proactive leadership.” It also said that some in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.”

The report did not criticize more senior officials, including Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary for management, who has vigorously defended the State Department’s decision-making on Benghazi to the Congress and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a news conference at the State Department on Wednesday, Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador who led the independent review, said that most of the blame should fall on officials in the two bureaus.

But that isn’t going to stop Republicans from trying to hang the blame around Hillary Clinton’s neck.

Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., slated to be the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Wednesday that Clinton “has to come before us. I think it’s imperative.” ‘

Corker and other members of Congress were given a classified briefing on the report and afterwards he insisted that Clinton must testify before she leaves her post and the Senate votes on confirmation of her successor.

The secretary was slated to attend briefings on the Hill this week but has been recovering from the flu and a concussion she suffered in a recent fainting episode.

Of course the right wing conspiracy nuts are accusing Clinton of faking her illness. And in the House:

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the unclassified version of the report “omits important information the public has a right to know. This includes details about the perpetrators of the attack in Libya as well as the less-than-noble reasons contributing to State Department decisions to deny security resources.”

He also said, “In light of the report, I am concerned that the carefully vetted testimony of senior State Department officials at the October hearing was part of an intentional effort to mislead the American people.”

Hey Darrell, have you hot-wired any cars or burned down any businesses lately?

While Pentagon officials struggle to figure out how to protect foreign outposts without using Blackwater-type hired guns, they are dealing with a worldwide Military day care abuse scandal.

The Defense Department has launched a worldwide investigation into hiring practices at military child-care centers after a criminal probe of employees at an Army base near the Pentagon sparked a review that found more than 30 staffers who officials say should have been barred from contact with children.

Two civilian employees at the Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall appeared in federal court Wednesday in Alexandria to face charges of assaulting 2-year-olds in their care.

The president immediately urged a thorough investigation and a “zero tolerance policy when it comes to protecting the children of service members from abuse.”

Two workers at the day-care center at the base known as Fort Myer were recorded by surveillance cameras dragging, pinching, kneeing and taunting toddlers, according to federal court records. The center is the military’s largest day-care center, with more than 400 children ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years old. It is used by Pentagon employees and other service members in the Washington area.

A personnel review at Fort Myer began in the fall after a parent complained about an allegedly abusive caregiver.

The inquiry turned up evidence that at least 31 staffers had potentially disqualifying factors in their records, including history of drug use and past allegations of assault, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation said. The staffers have been suspended.

“This is not just one or two or three people,” the official said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of an ongoing inquiry. “This is a severe lapse in the background checks system.”

In police state news, two women in Texas are suing the Texas State Police for subjecting them to an “illegal roadside cavity search.”

A federal lawsuit filed by two Irving women claims that Texas State Troopers humiliated them by performing illegal cavity searches on the side of the road after a cigarette butt was thrown out of their car window.

State Trooper David Farrell called in a female trooper to perform cavity searches of Angel Dobbs, 38, and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley Dobbs, because he said that he smelled marijuana and the women were “acting weird,” attorney Scott Palmer told KTVT on Tuesday.

Angel Dobbs recalled that the female trooper, Kelley Helleson, asked for her permission to perform the search and then told her to “shut up and just listen.”

Unbelievable.

Dashcam video shows Helleson searching the anuses and vaginas of both women with the same latex gloves in full view of other passing cars.

“At this point, I’m in clear shock. I can’t even believe this is happening,” Angel Dobbs explained. Turns me around goes down into the front of my pants into my inner thigh and at which point she goes up with two fingers. I just look at her and say ‘oh my God, I’ve just been violated.’”

And then the trooper performed the same procedure on Ashley Dobbs without changing her gloves.

“She went down, then turned me around, and went down my front and then she actually dug,” Ashley Dobbs said. “I didn’t know what I could say, what I could do. I felt hopeless.”

Is it time for Texas to secede from the union and become part of Mexico (except for Austin, Ralph)? Nah, Mexico probably wouldn’t want to get involved.

The TSA is “Finally Investigating Cancer Risk of X-Ray Body Scanners” now that millions of Americans have been used as guinea pigs in the nation’s airports.

Following months of congressional pressure, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency’s X-ray body scanners. But it is unclear if the academy will conduct its own tests of the scanners or merely review previous studies.

The machines, known as backscatters, were installed in airports nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009 to screen passengers for explosives and other nonmetallic weapons. But they have been criticized by some prominent scientists because they expose the public to a small amount of ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The scanners were the subject of a 2011 ProPublica series, which found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even low doses of radiation. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays.

The TSA maintains that the backscatters are safe and that they emit a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.

Winter has arrived in the Midwest: Outages in Iowa as season’s first blizzard starts journey in the Plains.

(CNN) — Tens of thousands of people lost power in Iowa on Thursday as the first major storm of the season swept in, bringing blizzards, high winds and severe thunderstorms to the central United States.

The storm prompted the National Weather Service to issue a blizzard warning for a huge swath of the Midwest stretching from eastern Colorado to Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline, including virtually all of Iowa.

The declaration warned of snow accumulations of up to 12 inches, complemented by 25- to 35-mph winds that will occasionally gust to 45 to 50 mph.

Oh goody.

The storm will race into western Illinois, the weather service said. Rain will quickly change to snow as the storm advances northeast, with the heaviest snow occurring overnight.

“Snow drifts several feet deep will be possible given the strong winds,” the blizzard warning states.
Wrapping around the blizzard warning on the north, south and east is a winter storm warning, which will be no picnic either. The winds won’t be quite as strong, but residents should expect a strong dose of rain, sleet and snow, with a few hail-packing thunderstorms thrown in for good measure.

Hmmm…what about my neck of the woods?

The “intense cyclone” will crawl across the Great Lakes region Thursday and slog into northern New England by Friday evening, the National Weather Service predicted.

Ugh…just what I needed.

I have three longer reads for you on the possible motivations behind mass shootings. I haven’t read any of these carefully yet, so I’m not sure if I’ll agree with the conclusions.

Scientific American is highlighting an article from 2007: Deadly Dreams: What Motivates School Shootings? The article focuses on the revenge fantasies of young shooters.

A Time article from July (written after the Aurora theater shootings) asks about “The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide.”

At Alternet: “What Is it About Men That They’re Committing These Horrible Massacres?”

I’ll be reading these articles after I publish this post. Let me know what you think.

Finally, Senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain are “condemning” the new movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty for falsely suggesting that torture led investigators to bin Laden’s hideout.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


James Holmes Was Referred to CU Campus “Threat Assessment Team” Before Aurora Shooting

Shooting suspect James Holmes and CU Psychiatrist Lynne Fenton

Here we go . . . Raise your hand if you didn’t suspect this was coming. The Denver Post has learned from “a source” that:

The University of Colorado Denver psychiatrist seeing accused murderer James Eagan Holmes was so alarmed by his behavior that she notified the campus-wide threat assessment team [known as the Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment, or BETA] that she helped create years before, a source told The Denver Post.

The source apparently didn’t specify what it was about Holmes’ behavior that frightened the psychiatrist. Fenton first called the threat assessment team about Holmes in “the first 10 days of June,” but once Holmes began the process of withdrawing from the CU doctoral program in neuroscience the so-called BETA team dropped their inquiry.

Dr. Lynne Fenton, identified in a court document as Holmes’ psychiatrist, in June took her concerns to members of the campus’ Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team but no further action was taken, a source with knowledge of the process told The Post….

The information was first reported late Wednesday by Denver’s KMGH-TV. The station, citing unnamed sources, reported that CU-Denver officials did not contact Aurora police before the July 20 massacre at the Century Aurora 16 theater that killed 12 people and injured 58 others. There was no mention in the report of whether CU-Denver police were notified.

According to the Denver Post article, the BETA team consists of a “group of high-level academic employees skilled at assessing potential threats on campus” It does not include anyone from the campus police department.

ABC News also claims to have confirmed all of this with their own sources. They quote a “threat assessment expert,” Barry Spodak regarding Holmes’ withdrawal from the university:

“You know, I think that’s the signal that you should intensify your efforts, not walk away,” said Barry Spodak, a threat assessment expert. “Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat assessment teams would have gone into action.”

How stupid is that? The university is going to held liable for knowing that Holmes was acting strangely. Why would they assume that his withdrawing from the program meant they were no longer responsible for monitoring him? I’m sure we’ll soon be hearing about other people who were concerned about Holmes’ behavior and did nothing.

UPDATE: The Denver ABC Channel has even more details.

Sources said when Holmes withdrew, the BETA team “had no control over him.”

“It takes more than just statements,” said one source, explaining that Holmes would have had to tell Fenton “something specific” before she would have to report it to law enforcement.

“He would have to tell her he had taken steps to make it happen,” said another source.


James Holmes’ Psychiatrist at U. of CO Specializes in Schizophrenia

Lynne Fenton MD

From the Washington Post:

The shooting suspect in the Colorado theater rampage was seeing a university psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia in the weeks before the July 20 attack, according to court records released Friday.

James Holmes was seeing Lynne Fenton, the director of student mental health services at the University of Colorado and a medical school professor. Holmes was a first-year graduate student in a neuroscience Ph.D. program.

Fenton is the person to whom Holmes sent a notebook containing drawings supposedly related to Aurora, Colorado theater massacre. Fenton’s university home page is password protected, but the WaPo says she “has written numerous papers and launched research in the area of schizophrenia.”

The judge in the case, William Sylvester, has ordered that all documents in the case, including the notebook and the defendant’s university records are “off-limits” to the media. Colorado is an open records state, but the prosecution asked the judge to hold off on any release of information to the public.

“The People have not had access to the defendant’s records from the University of Colorado, but are of the belief that disclosure of such records to the media would be contrary to the public interest,” the motion asserts.

In his response, Sylvester, the 18th Judicial District’s chief judge, agrees. He writes: “This court orders that the University of Colorado shall not disclose information about the defendant…”

The order goes on to stress that the DA’s office and the legal team representing Holmes will be able to see all this stuff, but that’s it won’t be made available to the wider public until the court vacates this decision or the final judgement of the case is rendered, whichever comes first.

According to the New York Daily News, Holmes is now claiming he doesn’t remember anything about the night of the shooting and doesn’t understand why he’s in jail.

Feel free to use this as an open thread. I’ll update if I can find any more information on Fenton. Her university home page is password protected, but they spell her first name “Lynn.” The media is calling her “Lynne.” I’m not sure which is correct yet.

UPDATE: CNN has a little more information on Fenton:

Fenton is the director of student mental health services at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, and an assistant professor, according to a resume posted on the school’s website.

As director, a position she’s held since 2009, Fenton sees between 15 and 20 graduate students per week for medication and psychotherapy, coordinates a team of four mental health clinicians, supervises some residents who treat students, and lectures. She also serves as a psychiatrist for between five and 10 patients, the resume states.

She’s held many jobs over the years. Fenton worked as a physician in private practice in Denver from 1994 to 2005, and was chief of physical medicine with the U.S. Air Force in San Antonio, Texas, in the early 1990s, according to the resume. Since 2008, she has won various grants and contracts to study schizophrenia.

Fenton did her undergraduate work at the University of California, Davis and earned her medical degree from Chicago Medical School in 1986.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I was working on this post for a good hour last night, and when I went to save what I had written, WordPress logged me out and wiped out the whole thing! I couldn’t begin to recall everything I had written, and I was extremely discouraged to put it mildly.

Next time, I’ll try to remember to save my work more often. For awhile there WordPress had managed to save posts even when they did their stupid logout trick. But not last night. I did my best to redo the stuff I lost, but I know I lost some bon mots.

After a brief truce in deference to the latest mass murder in the U.S., President Obama and Mitt Romney returned to campaigning yesterday. President Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars while his challenger raised more millions. The LA Times summarizes the back and forth.

President Obama’s campaign…accus[ed] Romney of harboring a “secret” foreign policy, and pushing him to detail his plans to end the war in Afghanistan and his approach to Russia and Israel. The Romney campaign responded by saying the president had eroded key alliances and promising Romney would “restore the pillars of American strength.”

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Obama portrayed his foreign policy record as one of promises fulfilled, and he took veiled jabs at Romney and other critics of his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and drawdown of troops from Afghanistan.

Today Romney will speak to the VFW before heading off to London to see the Olympics, attend two posh fundraisers, and meet with some British VIPs. After that he heads to Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and another fundraiser, and then on to Poland, where he

will visit Gdansk and Warsaw on July 30 and 31 at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the communist-era dissident who in 1983 won the Nobel Peace Prize for his defiance of the communist regime.

There were a couple of good hit pieces on Romney at the Huffington Post yesterday.

Ryan Grim: Mitt Romney Made Over $25 Million In Foreign Income While Governing, Campaigning.

Mitt Romney accumulated more than $25 million in foreign income between 2005 and 2010, while he was governor of Massachusetts and a presidential candidate, according to an analysis of his 2010 tax return.

The 2010 return lists foreign tax payments Romney made dating back to 2000. By Romney standards, the payments were modest through 2004, averaging $37,000 a year. In 2005, however, his foreign tax bill shot up to $333,149 and stayed high for the next three years, before dipping in 2009, as the financial crisis hit hard.

In 2010, Romney’s foreign tax bill was down to $67,173 on declared foreign income of $1,525,982. That’s a 4.4 percent rate. After expenses and various other deductions, Romney declared a net foreign income of $392,000, making his net tax rate 17 percent.

Because the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has so far declined to release his earlier tax returns, HuffPost made a rough calculation of his prior foreign earnings by assuming he paid similar tax rates in previous years.

Read the rest at the link.

Jason Cherkis and Laura Bassett: Bain Capital Created ‘Demoralizing’ Culture of Layoffs At Florida Plant.

When Dade Behring started cutting employees under Bain Capital’s management in the late ’90s, Cindy Hewitt was on the front lines. As a human resources manager for the Dade East plant in Miami, Hewitt had to decide which employees had needed skills and whose jobs were expendable.

News of the latest layoffs trickled down to the Dade company cafeteria. The room could seat more than 1,000, and it had been enough of a draw that it even offered breakfast.

But as the layoffs hit, the mood in the cafeteria could be as somber as a funeral, Hewitt recalled. Multiple members of the same family might be gathered to commiserate over being laid off one by one by one. Some of them had worked for the medical diagnostics company for more than a decade.

Hewitt saw her colleagues crying on a daily basis and loudly celebrating on the rare occasion that someone found a comparable new job. “There was a tremendous sense of loss and this kind of outpouring of grief and mourning as every day they waited for the announcement of who was going next,” she said. “People were on pins and needles. Who’s going next? They’re worried for themselves, worried for their co-workers, worried for their families. They’d talk about how they were going to send their kids to college. It was an incredibly depressing and demoralizing environment.”

There’s lots more at HuffPo.

Here’s some more proof that the rich keep getting richer and the poor get poorer: Yankees Acquire Ichiro Suzuki From Mariners

With a little more than two months remaining in the season, the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki, who became the first Japan-born position player in the majors when he joined the Mariners in 2001, when he was named the rookie of the year and the Most Valuable Player.

Before Monday’s game between the two teams at Safeco Field, the Yankees sent minor league pitchers D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners for Suzuki , whose five-year, $90 million contract expires after this season. The Yankees will also receive cash considerations to offset the financial commitment.

Wearing a dark blue suit with gray pinstripes, Suzuki walked down the hallway from the Seattle clubhouse over to the visitors’ side, stopping in the middle to speak at a news conference.

“I am going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins,“ he said through his interpreter, “so I am not able to contain my excitement in that regard.“

Once a great player, Suzuki is now just another mercenary.

Scott Brown has pulled another dumb trick. He’s using a line from a famous poem by Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again,” to attack President Obama and Elizabeth Warren for saying that governments provide services and infrastructure that support businesses. If that makes no sense to you, you’re not alone. Interestingly, Rick Santorum used the same line during the Republican presidential primaries and was mightily mocked for it. But Scott Brown was probably meeting with Kings and Queens at the time and missed the uproar. Besides, he’s really not all that bright, poor thing.

A new video from Brown, soliciting donations for his neck-and-neck campaign against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is headlined “Let America Be America Again” – the title of Hughes’ well-known 1935 poem, first published in Esquire magazine, that suggests the American dream never really existed for many Americans, including the lower classes, blacks, Native Americans, and other minority groups.

“There’s never been equality for me/Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free,’” Hughes writes in an aside between verses. “America never was America to me.”

The Brown campaign’s two and a half minute video tribute to small business, complete with stirring music and iconic images such as flags and white picket fences, chronicles what it portrays as a change in the United States from the words of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson – Democrats all – as well as Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, to current President Barack Obama and Warren, his uber-progressive rival.

watch?v=oqDIjGsBEP8&feature=player_embedded&w=400

Langston Hughes died in 1967 at the age of 65, but chances are if he were still alive today he would not be a Republican. Hughes’s poetry was frequently published in the Communist Party USA newspaper and he was involved in various initiatives supported by leftist organizations. Hughes traveled widely in the Soviet Union in 1932, and was later inducted into the International Union of Revolutionary Writers.

Oh, and BTW, Hughes is believed to have been gay.

USA Today had an interesting article on a polar bear DNA study.

Polar bears split from ancient bears more than 4 million years ago, suggests ancient DNA and the gene maps of multiple bears.

The polar bear genome finding reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal contradicts earlier gene studies finding much more recent times for the ancestral split, within 600,000 years, between polar bears and grizzly bears, which can still mate and produce viable offspring.

What’s more, the report suggests that polar bear numbers have been on the decline for at least 500,000 years, driven by climate fluctuations.

“Although polar bears ( Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (Ursus arctos) are considered separate species, analyses of fossil evidence and mitochondrial sequence data have indicated a recent divergence of polar bears from within brown bears,” begins the study led by Penn State’s Webb Miller.

For those who are still interested in thinking about the why of mass murders, I suggest reading a 2005 interview with Mark Ames, who wrote a book on school and workplace shootings called “Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion — From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.”

Ames is a true radical, and so of course he has a radical hypothesis about these horrible murders that have become pretty common in our culture. He argues that they are rooted in Reganomics and the philosophy of greed and avarice that he made popular back in the ugly ’80s. From the interviewer’s introduction:

Ames takes a systematic look at the scores of rage killings in our public schools and workplaces that have taken place over the past 25 years. He claims that instead of being the work of psychopaths, they were carried out by ordinary people who had suffered repeated humiliation, bullying and inhumane conditions that find their origins in the “Reagan Revolution.” Looking through a carefully researched historical lens, Ames recasts these rage killings as failed slave rebellions.

And from Ames himself:

Put it this way: rage murders in the workplace never existed anywhere in history until Reagan came to power. Reagan made it respectable to be a mean, stupid bastard in this country. He is the patron saint of white suckers. He unleashed America’s Heart of Vileness — its penchant for hating people who didn’t get rich, and worshipping people who despise them, and this is the essence of Reaganomics.

I hate to sound like a Clintonite here, but let’s remember Hillary Clinton became the most hated human being alive because she tried to give most Americans the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives, while these same Americans adored goons like Sam Walton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump — everyone who has dedicated their lives to transferring wealth, health and pleasure from the masses to a tiny elite. Liberals are hated in America precisely because they want to help people, which is seen as “patronizing.”

You can see how this kind of cultural insanity, unleashed by Reaganomics after decades of New Deal (relative) harmony, could make someone snap, when the cognitive dissonance suddenly strikes on a very personal level, and you realize that you’ve been screwed hard by your own dominant ideology.

Here’s an interesting 2007 review of Ames’ book by Ed Vulliamy from The Guardian UK.

Ames also wrote a lengthy analysis of One L. Goh’s rampage at Oikos University in Oakland, CA.

For a more mainstream take on the recent events in Aurora, Colorado, check out this piece by Dave Cullen, author of the book “Columbine.” He points out that just about everything the media immediately assumed about Harris and Klebold was wrong and that we still know almost nothing about James Holmes or his motives. Obviously, I agree.

Finally, here’s a piece that provides some support for Mark Ames’ argument that our culture has just plain turned mean and is getting meaner all the time: The Elites Are Unanimous: Lower Everyone’s Wages and Standard of Living — Except They Don’t Say it Out Loud

That’s it for me for today. What are you reading and blogging about?