Saturday Reads: Newtown Anniversary, Normalizing Gun Violence, and Other News

Henri-Matisse-Painting-011 child reading

Good Morning!!

I spent yesterday preparing for Winter Storm Electra. I stopped by the hardware store to get ice melt crystals and then headed to the grocery store to drop off a prescription and a few things I’ll need in case I can’t get my car out of the driveway for a couple of days.

I had an appointment in the afternoon, and then I made a fruitless attempt to find a parking space in the giant Whole Foods parking lot in Cambridge. Then back to my regular grocery store to pick up my prescription and a few refrigerated items. The store was even more packed this time, so I was glad I had stopped earlier. Finally, I went home, to stash my purchases and scatter ice melt on the all the icy surfaces left over from Winter Storm Dion.

So now I’m in hibernation mode until Monday. I just hope I can handle the shoveling myself. The weather folks are predicting anything from 5 to 12 inches of snow for my area. It was 11 degrees here when I woke up and its only 12 degrees right now. It’s hard to believe it can even snow when it’s so cold. But the weather people say it’s going to snow. If it starts this afternoon, I plan to shovel before it gets dark–then there won’t be so much to do tomorrow. It’s way too early for this. It won’t even be officially winter until next week. Those of you in the Midwest are probably already getting the storm–how is it going there? Is it still cold down South? We can commiserate in the comments.

Now to the news. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Newtown, but today is the anniversary of that awful day. It still breaks my heart when I think about it. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of the families who lost children. From CNN:

Horror struck Newtown, Connecticut, in such a disturbing way that the nation still struggles with its impact a year later.

The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is so profound that it cannot hold just one meaning. It holds several. That’s because the crime itself conveys multiple issues in its summary:

A mentally ill 20-year-old recluse obsessed with school shootings enters Sandy Hook Elementary School after the morning bell and kills six adult women, 12 girls and eight boys in 11 minutes. The children were 6 or 7 years old. The heavily armed Adam Lanza, who first killed his mother before taking her car to the school, also killed himself, in a classroom.

On the anniversary of the December 14 slaughter — under the shadow of another school shooting, this time at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado — country and community alike pause and reflect on an event known simply as “Newtown” or “Sandy Hook” and what it says about America on the matters of guns, mental health, healing, and the human spirit.

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A whole year after the slaughter of 20 first-graders and 6 adults, and our do-nothing Congress has done exactly nothing to control the purchase of weapons of war for everyday use. CBS News reports:

Not a single federal law curbing gun violence has passed in the year since a young man from Newtown, Conn. who’d long exhibited signs of mental instability got a hold of his mother’s AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle and two of her handguns and gunned down 20 first-graders and six of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life.

Capping a year that saw the most mass shootings in U.S. history, Newtown seemed to mark a turning point in national conversation about gun control. Within a month of the shooting, President Obama – promising to make the issue a hallmark of his second-term agenda – had signed several executive orders to make schools safer and gun purchases more transparent. But real reform, he said, would require bipartisan backing from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Six months after the Dec. 14, 2012 tragedy, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., insisted the push for tougher gun laws and bolstered support for mental health in America was “still on the front burner.” But foundation for that statement was flimsy.

Manchin’s own amendment to strengthen background checks for gun purchases – co-sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and seen by many in Congress to be the most realistic hope for immediate reform to gun laws – had collapsed in the Senate two months earlier. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had “hit pause” on debate over firearms altogether, pulling the legislation from the floor indefinitely.

The emotions surrounding Newtown, it seemed, were no longer driving the conversation about gun control.

Is anyone really surprised that something a huge majority of Americans support cannot get through Congress? Of course not. We can’t even get them to stop hurting the economy with their obsessive and idiotic push for unnecessary austerity. We should turn every one of them out of office–Democrats and Republicans and start from scratch.

And is anyone shocked that there was another school shooting the day before this horrible anniversary? Why should we be? Our so-called leaders don’t seem to care how many children die so they can keep getting donations from the NRA. A couple of stories on the shooting in Colorado.

matisselike portraits by kids

Denver Post as of last night: Shooting at Arapahoe High School, 1 girl in critical condition, gunman dead.

A student carried a shotgun into Arapahoe High School, asked where to find a specific teacher and then opened fire on Friday, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said. He shot a fellow student in the head before apparently killing himself.

A 15-year-old girl was reported in critical condition after undergoing surgery. Two other students were treated and released from a hospital for non-gunshot injuries.

The gunman, identified as 18-year-old Karl Pierson, was found dead inside a classroom from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Robinson said. Authorities believe he acted alone.

Robinson said authorities are investigating reports that Pierson may have been motivated by revenge against the teacher following a disagreement….Fellow classmates described the gunman as a bright student and a gifted debater whose family attended Bible study meetings.

A little more from USA Today:

The shootings — on the eve of the anniversary of the Newtown school massacre, in which 20 students and six staffers were murdered — sent scores of terrified students and staffers at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School scurrying at about 12:30 p.m. Police and other first responders quickly mobilized to surround the 2,220-student school.

A 15-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound and was reported in critical condition at a Littleton hospital Friday evening.One other student suffered minor gunshot-related injuries and was released from the hospital hours later, authorities said. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Friday night that another girl taken to a hospital was covered in blood from the other student, but wasn’t injured….

The gunman also brought two Molotov cocktails inside the school and exploded one, KUSA-TV reported. The other was found and removed by the bomb squad.

The incident unfolded when the armed student entered the west side of the school from a student parking lot. He told other students he was interested in confronting a specific teacher. “Word got around immediately,” Robinson said.

The teacher, informed of the situation, fled the building unharmed, said Robinson, who noted that the teacher’s decision to flee helped limit the potential carnage.

Our children are dying violently in this country, in places in which they should be safe–their schools and their homes. Why aren’t we doing anything to protect them? At an age when they should be concentrating on learning, developing social skills, and just having fun, our children are threatened by gun violence on a daily basis. What kind of nation allows this kind of slaughter to continue in the name of “second amendment rights” and greed? A few more links from around the ‘net:

Reuters: Obama marks Newtown school shooting anniversary with call for gun control

Star-Tribune Nation: In Newtown, a year of wrenching reminders

Mother Jones: Portraits of the Hundreds of Children Killed by Guns Since Newtown

Matthew Lysiak at The Guardian: We can no longer allow sick individuals like Adam Lanza to go on untreated

New York Daily News: Another year of the gun 

Gawker: What Kind of Monster Wants to Shoot Up His School? (highly recommended)

Matisse reading

In other news, 

Here’s a surprising story from Jonthan Turley’s blog: Federal Court Strikes Down Criminalization of Polygamy In Utah

It is with a great pleasure this evening to announce that decision of United States District Court judge Clarke Waddoups striking down key portions of the Utah polygamy law as unconstitutional. The Brown family and counsel have spent years in both the criminal phase of this case and then our challenge to the law itself in federal court. Despite the public statements of professors and experts that we could not prevail in this case, the court has shown that it is the rule of law that governs in this country. As I have previously written, plural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by gay and lesbian community over criminalization. With this decision, families like the Browns can now be both plural and legal in the state of Utah.  The Court struck down the provision as violating both the free exercise clause of the first amendment as well as the due process clause.   The court specifically struck down language criminalizing cohabitation — the provision that is used to prosecute polygamists.  The opinion is over 90 pages and constitutes a major constitutional ruling in protection of individual rights.

I just don’t know what to say about this, because I associate polygamy with the abuse of women and children. Am I a bigot? A couple more links:

Salt Lake Tribune: Federal judge declares Utah polygamy law unconstitutional

The Telegraph: ‘Sister Wives’ reality star wins legal fight against Utah anti-polygamy law

I haven’t been following the Robert Levinson story, but I will be from now on. Levinson has been missing in Iran for 7 years and has just been outed as a CIA operative. Links:

NYT: A Disappearing Spy, and a Scandal at the C.I.A.

ABC News: Family of Robert Levinson, American Held In Iran, Says He Was Spying for the CIA

The Register-Guard: White House declines to discuss missing American Robert Levinson’s CIA ties

Gawker: ABC, NYT Repeatedly Lied About CIA Operative Robert Levinson

Liberty Voice: Robert Levinson: Used by CIA, Forgotten by USA, Burned by Media, Left in Iran

WaPo: Sen. Bill Nelson: I told AP not to run Robert Levinson story

Those are my offerings today. What stories are you following? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!! On Tuesday I was complaining about our weather, but it has been sunny now for two days straight. Just a little sun does wonders for my mood. If only it didn’t get dark at 3:30PM. I might have to start setting my alarm for 5AM so I can get more sun exposure. Okay, enough about Boston weather. Let’s what’s in the news. We’ll start with the lightweight stuff.

It was rumored yesterday afternoon that Donald Trump was going to cancel his debate, which is sponsored by Newsmax.

With the wheels coming off the GOP debate he is supposed to host, Donald Trump admitted Friday that he’s looking into canceling the sparsely-attended forum.

But Trump, in a typical display of chutzpah, said there’s another reason why he might pull the plug – he still may run for President.

“If the Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate [to defeat President Obama\],” Trump declared, “I am unwilling to give up my right to run as an independent candidate.”

But as of late last night, “organizers” claimed the debate was “still on,” according to the LA Times.

There may only be two candidates, but plans for a debate moderated by Donald Trump are “moving full steam ahead,” the organizers said Friday.

Only Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum accepted the invitation from conservative media group Newsmax to attend the Dec. 27 forum in Iowa, broadcast on Ion Television.

Ion Television normally shows reruns of Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, and other TV dramas, along with old movies on weekends. It seems appropriate that the Republican Candidates might appear in the Criminal Minds slot.

Steve Coz, Newsmax’s editorial director, said in an interview that the hosts were “absolutely not” considering dropping Trump from the event.

“We just had a full production meeting this morning. We’re moving full steam ahead,” he said.

Coz said he was “disappointed” that other candidates backed out.

“It’s because they’re afraid of Trump because he’s so tough and so smart,” he said, admitting he is not a “typical moderator.” “The fact that they’re so fearful of Donald Trump that they don’t come is ludicrous. How can you be running for president and afraid of Donald Trump?”

Donald Trump “smart?” Now I’ve heard everything. But I agree that if these candidates are afraid of an old windbag like Trump, they’re in the wrong business.

A video has been released of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agenct who disappeared five years ago at age 59.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance nearly five years ago of a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in Iran was rekindled Friday with the release of a hostage videotape showing him alive as of a year ago. In the video, the former agent, Robert A. Levinson, is shown in a makeshift cell looking gaunt and wearing a threadbare shirt.

Mr. Levinson, who worked as a private investigator after retiring from the F.B.I., disappeared in March 2007 while on Kish Island, a resort in the Persian Gulf. In the tape, which was received by Mr. Levinson’s family last November, he says that he has been held in captivity for three and a half years but does not identify his captors.

The tape was the first sign he was still alive. “I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me,” he said on the tape as faint music played on a soundtrack. “Please help me get home. Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something.”

I don’t recall hearing about this before, does anyone else? Levinson’s family members have a web site where they have posted videos and appeals to his captors. The FBI is aware of the situation and there have been meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials. The Iranian government claims they had nothing to do with Levinson’s kidnapping, but are willing to help find him. According to the NYT article, Secretary of State Clinton indicated earlier this year that she believes Levinson is still alive.

The suspect in the Virgina Tech shooting has been identified as Ross Truett Ashley.

A 22-year-old Virginia man stole a Mercedes SUV at gunpoint the day before he shot dead a Virginia Tech police officer and then took his own life, police said Friday.

Virginia State Police on Friday identified Ross Truett Ashley, 22, as the man who killed Virginia Tech Police Officer Deriek Crouse and then himself about 30 minutes later.

A part-time student at Radford University, 15 miles southwest of Blacksburg, Ashley had no connection to or contact with Crouse before Thursday’s shooting, according to a news release from state police.

“State police investigators are continuing their work to establish a motive in the killing and to re-create Ashley’s movements in the days and hours leading up to the murder-suicide,” police said.

A little more on Ashley from the NYT:

Little was known about Mr. Ashley. He lived on East Main Street in Radford. He did not appear on Facebook or MySpace and had no criminal history. The only photograph the police could find was from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. Ashley walked into a real estate office in Radford, pulled a gun and demanded the keys to an employee’s car, a white 2011 Mercedes-Benz S.U.V., the police said. The car was found Thursday on the Virginia Tech campus.

Mr. Ashley appeared to have considered his moves carefully. He had a change of clothes and a backpack, the police said. He drove to the campus in the stolen vehicle. But the police said they were still trying to establish why he walked up to Officer Crouse during a routine traffic stop and shot him dead….

After shooting Officer Crouse, Mr. Ashley fled to an area near the campus greenhouses. There he changed some of his clothes, leaving a wool hat and a pullover in his backpack, as well as an ID card, Ms. Geller said.

I guess we’ll have to wait for more answers. Apparently Ashley’s family hasn’t been interviewed by the media yet.

There was another mysterious random shooter in LA yesterday.

Los Angeles police detectives spread out to several parts of Southern California on Friday investigating addresses connect to a gunman who randomly opened fire on drivers and pedestrians in Hollywood before being fatally shot by Los Angeles Police Department officers.

Police have so far found no motive in the shooting and don’t believe the gunman knew his targets.

Law enforcement sources said detectives have checked on several addresses — including at least one in the San Gabriel Valley — to seek more information about the gunman, who has not been identified.

There is video of the shootings. A student, William Wiles heard shots outside his apartment and filmed the scene on his iPhone.

A brief video, which he provided to The Times, shows a man in the intersection firing a shot at a pickup truck.

The gunman was “being crazy and spastic,” Wiles said, adding that he heard the man yelling.

The gunman started shooting with no apparent motive. He was killed on Vine Street by Los Angeles police officers Friday morning.

A man in a silver Mercedes Benz who was shot in the jaw is in critical condition, police said. The 40-year-old victim was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Other witnesses said the man was standing in the middle of the intersection, apparently “shooting randomly at cars and in the air,” said witness Gregory Bojorquez, who was on the way to the Bank of America.

“At first it seemed like a movie but then you could hear the shots hitting metal,” Bojorquez said.

I didn’t watch the video, because I’d rather not have that image in my mind right now.

Are we going to see a “Russian Spring?” From the Guardian UK:

Vladimir Putin is set to face the biggest show of opposition yet to his strongman rule with tens of thousands of Russians promising to take to the streets on Saturday in a popular wave of discontent unseen since he came to power 12 years ago.

The opposition coalesced around a set of concrete demands, including the annulment of a parliamentary vote marred by fraud and the holding of new elections.

“We expect the biggest political demonstration of the last 10 years,” said Ilya Ponomaryov, a Duma deputy with the Just Russia party and a protest organiser. “What will happen tomorrow is an important step in the development of our democracy.”

More than 35,000 people indicated via Facebook that they planned to join the protest in Moscow. After a day of intense negotiations, protest organisers agreed to demands by the city government to move from Revolution Square to Bolotnaya (Swamp) Square, away from the Kremlin. Some protesters expressed concern that the site, on an island accessible by bridges, could be cut off by police.

It really is looking like 2012 could resemble 1968.

Occupy Boston planned to hold a general assembly last night, one day after Mayor Menino had ordered them to leave Dewey Park. From the conservative Boston Herald

The refuse-to-die Boston Occupy movement is holding its general assembly tonight where they are bracing for police to sweep them out sometime after midnight, according to an alert the group sent out.

The warning comes as occupiers hold a general assembly at the Dewey Square encampment — defying Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s call for them to leave.

A new sign is also being showed off: “You Can’t Evict An Idea.” The rally has turned bitter as members take turns lashing out at the mayor’s eviction order.

According to The Boston Globe: Some Occupy Boston protesters said they plan to stay until they are forced to go.

With determination in his voice and a hammer in hand, Occupy Boston protester Harry said today he is willing to risk arrest in order to continue living at the Dewey Square encampment.

One day after Mayor Menino ordered an end to the tent village, the Dorchester man hammered a wooden stake into the ground to support the tent he intends to live in – until he is forcibly removed by Boston police.

“There is a good amount of hope and possibility left at this camp,’’ he said.

Asked what he will do if Boston police change tactics and arrest him as part of the effort to permanently close the encampment, Harry was resigned to being taken into custody.

“Oh, well,’’ he said. “What’s the worse thing they could do? Arrest us for a peaceful protest? Oh, well.’’

I just hope they’re discussing their next moves, because the occupation of parks seems to be played out, especially up here where the weather will be getting colder and messier soon.

Those are my Saturday offerings. What are you reading and blogging about today?