Douglas MacArthur receiving the Thayer Award for living the West Point Code of Duty, Honor, Country.
I offer this simply as one of the great speeches of all time. It inspires and it teaches.
"General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps!
As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, "Where are you bound for, General?" And when I replied, "West Point," he remarked, "Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?"
No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award]. Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.
But these are some of the things they do: They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.
And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.
He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.
As I listened to those songs [of the glee club], in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.
And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory -- always victory. Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of: Duty, Honor, Country.
The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.
The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.
In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.
However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.
You now face a new world -- a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.
We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.
And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.
Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.
Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.
You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.
This does not mean that you are war mongers.
On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."1
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.
But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.
Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.
I bid you farewell."
Mr. Holland's Opus
"A man's gotta know his limitations."
Many of you may be familiar with the wildly popular Discovery Channel reality show, “MythBusters.” It’s a show in which two very clever guys, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, and their very clever 'build team' take on myths, urban legends, rumors and old-wives tales and endeavor to prove them true, possible or false; or as they say, “Confirmed,” “Plausible” or “Busted.” Using elements of scientific method, they empirically test well-known urban legends to determine their validity.
For instance, in one episode they disproved the myth that Benjamin Franklin ‘discovered’ electricity by tying a key to the string of a kite flown in a thunderstorm to facilitate it being hit by lightning.
Using medical and electrical instrumentation, they determined that if the key on a kite was indeed hit by
lightning, the wet string would impart to the holder of the string an electrical charge 6 times the strength necessary to kill a man.
In another, they disproved a myth with which I was familiar. When I lived in New York City as a child, my parents took me up to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building to see the view, and of course I wanted to throw a penny off the building. I was warned by my mother, “If a penny falling from the top of this building hit somebody in the head, it would kill them.” I had never thought of that. Not being an ace at physics when I was 5, I took mom’s word for it. Shaken at my brush with manslaughter, I pocked the penny with great relief. Imagine my surprise when “MythBusters” were able to prove that the terminal velocity of a penny falling from that exact distance was incapable of causing more than a bruise.
It's hard to give up pre-conceived notions and myths you have bought into. So hard that many people simply refuse to accept evidence that proves they were wrong, rather than admit their mistake and go on with life. This kind of denial is sad when it has to do with something as simple as the old wives tale of the fatal falling penny. When the denial results in hatred, threats, and attempts to punish the innocent, it borders on criminal. Apparently, like ‘The Force’ in Luke Skywalker, this type of denial is strong in the Amanda Knox hate groups.
As an example; I know a little bit about surgery. I’ve seen it on TV. I’ve read about it in books. I’ve even had surgery performed on me. But I don’t do surgery and I never will. That’s because I have learned enough about it to know that it is a vast, complicated undertaking and even as a fairly intelligent guy, I know I don’t know enough about surgery to keep from killing anybody I operate on. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know.
I’m guessing that the members of the Amanda Knox hate groups on the Internet would have no qualms about trying surgery. (On someone else). These malicious groups—and I can only assume that Mr. Holland is a member based on his statement—don’t know what they don’t know. It appears that because they have watched “CSI” or any number of “Sherlock Holmes” films, they feel that they have the knowledge and skill to be investigators. In the words of the immortal Jeremy Clarkson, “What could go wrong?” A lot.
"What could go wrong?"
"WHAT COULD GO WRONG?"
Forensics is not as easy as it seems. After graduating from the FBI Academy 30 some years ago, I felt I was a pretty good investigator. I was wrong. It was not until I had been investigating for a decade that I felt I that my experience was adequately rounded. In contrast, dozens of arm-chair Kercher murder investigators who have likely never missed a “Murder, She Wrote,” are dismissing the conclusions of dozens of DNA experts, forensic scientists, FBI agents, judges and pathologists, and damning two innocent young people based on their own amateur read of “evidence,” of which they have no understanding.
It reminds me of MythBuster Adam Savage’s catchphrase: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”
Recently, I was provided with evidence of exactly this type of denial; a couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on my April 13, 2013 article “(Another) Unpredicted Italian Earthquake.” This comment was so important and so illustrative of the problems involved in Amanda’s case that I felt it deserved not simply an answer, but an article.
The article in question outlined the fallacies of the Italian Supreme Court (famous for their recent ruling that women in tight jeans cannot be raped, as men cannot remove their pants without their consent), which failed to ratify the appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox. A Mr. Wayne Holland differed with me and wrote:
“Amanda’s DNA was found in 5 spots mixed with murdered woman’s blood. Bloody footprints were found using Luminol.
How soon you forget. Philomena’s floor had a mixture of Knox’s blood and Meredith’s [victim’s] blood. Even if Knox had innocent drips from pierced ears, it’s almost mathematically impossible that her blood or DNA would be mixing with a murder victim’s blood in so many locations, yet Knox claims she wasn’t even there.”
This might appear to a casual reader as innocent discussion. Except for the fact that every single assertion of Mr. Holland’s Wild Opus is an absolute lie or a complete misunderstanding of the truth—and was proven to be so several years ago. I would call the allegations simply false, except that when one utters or writes something they know (or should know) to be completely and utterly false or intentionally misleading, it is a lie. It is possible that Mr. Holland is simply grossly ignorant of the facts. But it is hard to dismiss this without comment, because Holland claims no expertise in the science of forensics, yet feels the right to make conclusions based on (particularly bad) forensic science.
An acquaintance of mine was one of the small team that turned-around The Walt Disney Company in the early 1980’s. He became president of one of the Disney companies and I am fortunate enough to call him a friend and reap the benefit from his wisdom from time to time. He once passed on to me an adage I try to live by, “It’s important to know what you know. But it’s more important to know what you don’t know.”
MR. HOLLAND'S ACCUSATIONS
So what was it about Mr. Holland’s statement that was so wrong? Let’s break it down for simplicity into your individual statements. To adequately respond to these statements, I’ll have to provide some background on forensics to the reader (and hopefully to Mr. Holland.)
THE MYTH OF THE MIXED BLOOD/DNA
Amanda and Meredith's sink.
1. “Amanda’s DNA was found in 5 spots mixed with murdered woman’s blood."
This statement is akin to the question, “Do you still beat your wife?” It sounds very sinister, but means absolutely nothing.
· The victim in the murder was the roommate of Amanda Knox, Meredith Kercher.
· Amanda and Meredith shared a bathroom.
· It is a scientific certainty that the DNA of Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox were coating the sink, sink handles, shower, toilet, bidet, etc., of their own bathroom.
· The person who sexually assaulted Meredith and slashed her throat cleaned Meredith’s blood off their hands in the bathroom shared by Meredith and Amanda—this is undisputed. (The DNA of a local burglar was found inside Meredith’s body)
· That Amanda’s DNA would be in the sink and every part of that bathroom is an inescapable scientific fact.
· That the two would be mixed would be unavoidable.
To find blood in that sink, bidet, etc., NOT mixed with Amanda’s DNA would be highly suspicious. If, God forbid, Mr. Holland, a neighbor was murdered in your neighborhood while you were out for the evening and they broke into your home to wash the blood off in your sink, the police would find the victim’s blood mingled with the DNA of Wayne Holland. Is that evidence that you murdered anybody? Of course not. Sadly, you do not know what you do not know.
THE MYTH OF THE 'BLOODY FOOTPRINT'
2. "Bloody footprints were found using Luminol." [For the sake of conjecture, I’ll assume Mr. Holland mean that footprints of Amanda, in Meredith’s blood, were found at the murder scene—otherwise, his statement has no relevance.]
Footprints alleged to be Knox's
Regardless, in no place in that house were the footprints of Amanda Knox found in anybody’s blood. That’s a lie, and I suspect you know it, Holland. A significant problem with Holland’s statement is that even the prosecution disagrees with him. The chief forensic investigator and prosecutor Giuliano Mignini’s accomplice, Patricia Stefanoni, stated in court that bare footprints which appeared to match Amanda Knox’s were found by Luminol, insinuating that the prints were made in blood. And she perjured herself to do it. At first, Stefanoni asserted under oath that no testing had been done to determine whether the footprints had traces of blood in them. Then, months later, documents surfaced in court which showed that testing had been done for blood, and the tests were negative. No blood. Perjury certainly, but no blood.
So what we have are Amanda Knox’s barefoot prints in her own apartment. Not a very astounding find. The revelation of “no blood” occurred in July, 2009. It is astounding that almost four years ago, Holland is unaware of the truth.
Here, Mr. Holland, is the reason it couldn’t have been blood on the feet which made the footprints:
As this photo demonstrates, when very distinct shapes and lines are erased from a chalkboard; they become completely indistinct and unreadable. While you may not know what the erased shapes, numbers or letters on a chalkboard were, you can certainly tell that they were there at one time. An erased chalkboard is not devoid of chalk, it is simply devoid of chalk arranged in any readable pattern. The chalk is easy to detect.
This is a perfect analogy to what a latent blood cleanup looks like. When blood is cleaned up, it does not disappear (at least as as far as invisible irons and copper compounds are concerned.) Though not visible to the human eye, it is still detectable by Luminol. If not cleaned up, the blood is visible and in a detectable shape, much like writing on a chalkboard. When cleaned, the blood, like chalk, "disappears," but does not go away. The only thing that is irretreviably erased is the pattern of the previous imprinting, whether it be writing (chalk) or a footprint/handprint (blood). Follow so far?
Here's a test: Which of the following chalkboards have been erased, A or B?
Of course. "B" has been erased. We know that because we can't see any lettering or recognizable shapes on it. Though what might be chalk is still visible.
· Had the footprints been made in blood, (especially as clear and complete as they were) they would not have been ‘latent,’ that is—invisible to the naked eye. Blood does not dry to invisible. Dried, bloody footprints are visible with the naked eye—as were all of the shoe-prints of Rudy Guede (the known burglar) throughout the house. But the footprints were not visible. That’s why it took Luminol to find them.
Amanda's alleged footprint under ambient light.
Dried blood on the same tile floor several feet away.
As you can see from the photo on the left above, the footprint which the prosecution believes was Amanda's was absolutely invisible except under Luminol examination. The bloody floor on the right is the exact same tile with dried blood on it the same day, only a few feet away. So, if 'Amanda's' footprint had been made in blood, it would have had the appearance of the photo on the right, and would not have dried invisible--even in Italy.
The prosecution, and Mr. Holland, want you to believe that it was Amanda's footprint--in blood--but cleaned with bleach to make it invisible. Certainly, there are times when a cleaned bloody footprint or handprint will be visible in their original shape after cleaning--but only on completely porous surfaces such as carpet, cloth or wall paint.
What would it look like on glazed tile or porcelain? Check out the Luminol photograph of a cleaned crime scene below.Then, look again at the chalkboard. Mr. Holland's allegation is simply silly. But that's not because he is unintelligent, it is because he doesn't understand forensic science or investigations.
· If the footprint was not made in blood, what caused the Luminol reaction? Easy. Bleach. Bleach reacts so similarly to blood under Luminol examination that it is used to train forensic investigators. The bare foot prints in question are coming from the direction of Amanda’s shower, which was stocked with bathroom cleaners which contain—wait for it---bleach! Again, if Amanda Knox showered in that bathroom, then walked out barefoot to her room and NO bare footprints were discoverable by Luminol, then THAT would be suspicious. Ultimately, Mr. Holland’s statements prove only one thing: That he is terrifically naïve of forensic science. Sadly, this is a naiveté endemic to the anti-Knox groups.
How would the victim's blood get from one room to the other? Talk about your unsolvable mysteries!
THE MYTH OF THE 'MIXED BLOOD'
3. “Philomena’s [sic] floor had a mixture of Knox’s blood and Meredith’s [victim] blood. Even if Knox had innocent drips from pierced ears, it’s almost mathematically impossible that her blood or DNA would be mixing with a murder victim’s blood in so many locations, yet Knox claims she wasn’t even there.”
This one’s a ‘whopper.’ Holland is alleging that Knox’s blood and the victim’s blood were found intermixed in the room of Filomena (not “Philomena”, Mr. Holland), another roommate. This is simply a lie. At no point in the trial was anybody ever able to provide a single piece of evidence to suggest that Amanda’s blood was in Filomena’s room. Never. Didn’t happen.
It is, however, Meredith’s blood in Filomena’s room. How did Meredith’s blood get into Filomena’s room? Check out the photo. This is an actual photograph of one of the police forensic “investigators” standing in Meredith’s blood. I personally watched two hours of unedited videotape of the forensic investigators collecting samples throughout the house. I repeatedly saw police officers in Tyvek ‘bubble suits’ step INTO the victim’s wet blood, then walk throughout the house, outside the house, then back into the house. It’s amazing that Meredith’s blood wasn’t found in the homes of the investigating officers. Had they checked, I believe they might have found it there. I should have called this, "The Myth of Polizia Scientifica Competence."
The allegation that Amanda’s blood was anywhere in any quantity is also problematic, as Amanda’s entire body was examined several days after Meredith’s murder for cuts and injuries and not a single one; cut, scrape or injury—or even a healing wound—was found which would have released blood. So…..if it was Amanda’s blood, where did it come from? This is a question that has been debunked so many times its almost laughable. Yet, like the Loch Ness monster photo, some people still believe it to be authentic.
There is also, sadly, another way that the blood from the victim could have found itself to anywhere in the house--especially to places where the "Polizia Scientifica" felt evidence might be: Their tools. Follow the travels of this ruler from place to place to place. It starts in the victim's blood, then travels to alleged footprints of Amanda, then to every room in the house and to every piece of evidence. And no, there is not a shred of visual or testimonial evidence that the photographer used more than one photographic ruler of that shape and size. He brought one, and by God, he used it.
I did not challenge the accuser’s statements to embarrass Mr. Holland or to simply expose his naiveté about investigation, forensics, evidence or the actual facts of the case. I did it to illustrate to readers the reckless, irresponsible and completely ignorant propaganda being spewed by people motivated by innuendo, hate, and mob rule. This is the type of forensics and evidence evaluation which were handy to those burning witches. It boggles the mind why they so hate Amanda Knox—and not the man who raped and murdered Meredith Kercher; Rudy Guede.
The irony here is that one of the old saws the Knox-haters keep trotting out is the one about Amanda “accusing” an innocent man of the murder. The story, like the rest, is apocryphal at best, but what actually happened was that Amanda, a 20 year old girl in Italy for only a few weeks, was interrogated by Italian police for 53 hours over five days. The last 6-8 hours occurred overnight, from 10 pm until 6 am, during which time she was refused food, water, coffee or bathroom breaks.
They screamed at Amanda, verbally abused her, threatened her, slapped her in the head when she didn’t give the correct answers, terrified her, and told her she would never see freedom or America again. So finally, after enduring this all night, at the insistence of the police, she wrote a confused, contradictory and inadmissible statement about a ‘dreamlike’ vision of a man killing Meredith. A specific, innocent man the police had 'suggested' to Amanda--by name. So yes, Amanda accused an innocent man. She did so with all the evil intent of a frightened bank teller handing a wad of the bank's cash--to a man who holds a gun to her head. She did so with all the evil intent of American fighter pilots, who after similar treatment in North Korea and North Vietnam, signed "confessions" admitting to intentionally bombing innocent women and babies.
So what of Mr. Holland and his ilk? They wax pedantic on Amanda’s accusation of an innocent man; all the while doing the same thing: Accusing innocent persons of murder. Ironically the very same murder.
Amanda’s accusation came at the end of a week of terror from a confused, abused, frightened, and coerced girl. That’s why she did what she did. The people who accuse her? They do so because of ignorance, hatred, xenophobia, pride and malice.
In conclusion, Mr. Holland, I offer you only the advice of a great American; Mark Twain:
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.”
"Mayors Against Airbags?"
Michael Bloomberg strangely silent on killer airbags.
On a hot August Friday afternoon in 2003, I climbed into my FBI vehicle (we called them “Bū-cars”) at about 5:40 pm to head home from my office near Van Nuys, California. But before I had gone two miles, a radio call from FBI dispatch alerted my squad to a criminal situation in progress. Turning on the lights and siren, I sped down Balboa Boulevard and turned onto the onramp for the 101 north—toward the crime scene—as I had done so many times before.
Four miles after merging onto the 101, traveling at a relatively high rate of speed, en-route to what I believed was a life or death situation, traffic abruptly stopped in front of me and cars swerved, clogging the shoulder where emergency vehicles drive. I had nowhere to go. I remember thinking how hard the impact was going to be. I also have a vivid memory of my head bouncing back off of the airbag, confused as to why I was still conscious. The paramedic attending to me told me that even wearing seatbelts as I was, absent airbags I would have put my head through the windshield.
That night, sitting gingerly in my bed in Thousand Oaks, I mused about the events of the day. If you had asked me when I started the car that afternoon what the chances were of me needing either the seatbelts or airbag on the way home, I would have though them about zero. About the same as I would have placed the odds of random gang fugitives fleeing through my yard. I have lived in Thousand Oaks for years. It’s a safe, wonderful place to live. Annual FBI statistics consistently rate the city of Thousand Oaks, California as one of the 10 safest cities with a population of over 100,000 in the nation. For several years it was THE safest. Thousand Oaks is a place where people have to remind themselves to lock their doors. As safe as it is, Thousand Oaks’ large tax base (one of the wealthiest cities of its size in the nation) gives it a police to citizen ratio second to none.
But an interesting phenomenon is occurring now in places like Thousand Oaks. Gang members from South Central Los Angeles, 40 miles away, have found that businesses in cities like Thousand Oaks have more money and less security than those in South Central. In Thousand Oaks, homes and businesses generally do not have, and do not need bars on the windows and elaborate security alarms, so gangs are ‘heading west.’
Last Sunday morning, just after 4 a.m., something happened in our little neighborhood. We live on a street several blocks from anything one would consider a ‘main’ street, and with the exception of the sound of a horse or goat snorting or whinnying, I was confident that I would be able to enjoy the luxury of sleeping in. It didn’t work out, though. My wife was woken by the sound of sirens and looked out the front window to see not a police car, but a dozen police cars on our tiny, narrow street. She then woke me.
Our neighborhood visitors
Walking barefoot down our street early in the morning, I noticed police tape, a car protruding through a neighbor’s picket fence and wrecked on his lawn. All four doors were open and it was already surrounded by yellow police tape. One of the officers on the scene, carrying a shotgun, advised me that burglars had been discovered a few miles away, and a car chase with police ensued. They drove down my little street, lost control and crashed into the neighbor’s yard. They then “un-assed” their car and four of them fled—into my neighborhood. They were still ‘at large’ I was told. Wonderful. I thought it wise to go back to my house to protect my family.
“So they could be anywhere?” I asked.
“They might be watching us right now,” the deputy responded.
On the way back to my house, I bumped into a neighbor who had been up with a baby at the time of the excitement. He told me that he had witnessed the crash, and one of the escapees had hopped the fence between my house and my next-door neighbor’s house. Great. Then I noticed that my garage door was open, and the lights inside of the garage were ‘on.’ Super! I advised the police of this development and returned to the house where my children slept and my wife stood waiting for me. I had been advised by the police that they were searching from house to house and that they would get to my house “in about 20 minutes or so.”
The actions of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department to the incident were some of the most robust and encouraging I have ever seen. They are pros, and their response was truly huge and awesome. But realities are realities; even a department as exceptional as VCSD has only so many officers. The fugitives could be in any one of a hundred houses in the neighborhood (and in fact WERE); and regardless of how big a response the department made, or how well trained their deputies were, they couldn’t search every house simultaneously.
At that moment, for better or for worse, every homeowner and occupant in every house was responsible for their own safety until VCSD could clear their homes for them. As I learned later, one of the fugitives—a member of an L.A. street gang--burst into the back door of the residence behind my house, entering the hallways between the bedroom and the kitchen, where he bumped into the owner of the house investigating the noise.
I cannot express to you the relief it was to know that I had weapons in my home with which to defend it. Obviously, due to my background, I have training and weapons others might not have. But it made me immensely grateful to have the right to possess those weapons. As a matter of course, I keep a high-caliber pistol with “night sights” within arm’s reach at night. It is loaded and ‘chambered’ (a bullet ready to fire) with a mechanical safety engaged so that it will not fire if someone besides me or my wife or children—also pretty good with firearms--were to (God forbid) pick it up. I also keep a “Joe Biden” tactical shotgun secured but available in my bedroom, loaded but not chambered—because frankly, Joe is right to a point. In many situations, a shotgun is better. In some, it’s not. (Note that no SWAT teams carry shotguns as their primary weapons.)
Upon returning to my house, I felt it necessary to clear the garage—something I had done with SWAT dozens and dozens and dozens of times. Ironically, the majority of my experience in clearing garages was from operations in South Central. I advised the police of what I was going to do and where I was going to do it, and with what weapon. I uncased a rifle similar to the assault rifles carried by police on my street that morning, and spent the next 10 minutes clearing my back yard, my attic, and my garages with that rifle and a flashlight. By the time the police arrived, I could tell them with confidence that no fugitives were likely on my property, (but gladly accepted the offer of a K9 search.)
Thanks, guys! Very proud of VCSD.
Can guns save lives? Without a doubt. I’m a witness. Can guns be dangerous to keep in a house? Yes, if stored and used incorrectly and/or illegally.
Can airbags save lives? Without a doubt. I’m a witness. Can airbags be dangerous to occupants of a car? Certainly, even when used legally and correctly.
Between September 1, 1998, when airbags were mandated for new cars and light trucks, through the end of 2004, an estimated 10,000 lives were saved by airbags. One of those lives was mine. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) between 1999 and 2002, 238 people had been killed by airbags in accidental or extreme low-speed impacts. (An average of 59.5 per year or 390 for the period 9/98 – 12/04.) A concurrent study by the University of Georgia postulated that dozens if not hundreds more (mainly children) were killed by the bags in high-speed crashes in which the deaths were attributed to the collision forces. Still, only the NHTSA figures are used in airbag death figures. But the net fatality rate per lives saved with airbags is at least 3.9%.
What about accidental gun deaths?
On July 7, 2010, the Chicago Tribune published an article by a prosecutor with 30 years of experience which stated in part;
“In actuality, multiple studies done by criminologists over the past three decades show that guns are used defensively--to thwart violent crimes--about 2.5 million times per year in the United States. Only one in every thousand (0.1 percent) of those defensive uses results in the death of the predator.
In a nutshell, while accidental deaths of household members do occur, these tragedies happen very seldom; one is far more likely to die in a car, by drowning, or even as a result of a medical error, than by being shot. Conversely, the number of lives saved by the defensive use of guns far outweighs the (almost nonexistent) number of accidental deaths of children.”
Everybody throws around their own figures about gun deaths and ‘saves.’ Some of the NRA figures seem a little suspect at times, and it was recently found that anti-gun-lobby figures for “accidental” gun deaths in homes included intentional suicides (83% or so of the deaths) and drug deals gone wrong! So, I’ll limit my figures to groups who don’t have motive to shade their figures.
According to the FBI, approximately 205 million privately owned guns (and guns of law enforcement officers brought home) are in private homes on a daily basis. Guns are used statistically 2.5 million times (displayed, fired in the air, fired at attackers) annually to defend home or life or both. On an average year accidental gun deaths (not counting suicides or violence due to drug deals) in homes total approximately 590. Simply stated, that results in the following statistics:
Annual uses of guns to defend life or property: 2.5 million
Annual accidental gun deaths: 590
Accidental gun fatalities per lives defended: .02%
Lives saved by airbag deployments 9/1/98 – 12/31/2004: 10,000
Lives taken by airbag deployments 9/1/98 – 12/31/2004: 390
Fatalities per lives saved: 3.9%
Statistically then, airbags are 195 times more dangerous to have in your possession than a loaded gun. Airbags, however, are mandated by law. If some legislators had their way, guns would be legislated out of existence along with the right to possess them. Why?
I believe that a main reason is perception. Seatbelts every year trap several people in burning cars or vehicles sinking in water when panicked occupants can’t undo the belts. Surveys show that a substantial portion (as much as 30%) of the populace report that their reluctance to wear seatbelts involves a fear of being trapped in a sinking or burning car. However, a 1980’s University of Michigan study revealed that an infinitesimally small number of persons die in post-crash fires or immersions due to seatbelt use. That study is 30 years old, but it has not impacted the perception of a large group of people who drive or ride in cars—and their failure to understand the accurate statistics potentially puts their lives at risk.
Since retiring from the FBI, I have buckled my seatbelts every day—without fail. But not once in those five years have I needed them to protect my life or health. But in those same five years, I know that at least once, having a gun in the house has made my family infinitely safer. In the 30 years since I first brought a gun home from the FBI, only once do I feel like I did not properly secure a firearm—to no one’s harm. During the same time, there have been dozens of times on and off duty when the gun made me or my family safer.
I have dear friends on both sides of this issue, and I admire their reasons for believing the way they do. I just believe that the information upon which they are basing their personal decisions is flawed. They disagree with me on that. By and large, the people on “the other side,” at least the ones with whom I personally deal, are honorable, good people, who have sometimes had to bear the unfair brunt of a tirade from me—and for this I sincerely apologize. To my close friends, I say that I respect you as people and as people whose opinion differs from mine. I think we both know of people on each side of the issue whose opinions or though-processes are not as honorable.
Before you think I am a naive gun-lobby shill, I need to tell you of my background. I am not unaware of the damage people do with guns.
I have been the first responder to and the agent in charge of investigating a school shooting—5 year olds machine-gunned with an illegal Uzi. I’ve seen the blood, I’ve seen the wounded children. I’ve heard the parents sob, I’ve been with grieving family, I’ve spent hours with the actual shooter the day of his arrest, learning of the sick details. His gun was illegal in the U.S., the shooter was not only a violent felon (knife assault), but had just been released from a mental institution just weeks prior despite his self-confessed inability to control his homicidal ideations. But released he was. He broke so many existing laws we lost track.
1. (Violent) Felon in possession of a firearm
2. Possession of a machine gun
3. Illegal modification of a weapon
4. Interstate transportation of an illegal firearm
5. Interstate transportation of an illegal firearm
And these are only the FEDERAL laws he violated. He also violated several dozen state laws.
The shooter had obtained his weapon through a second source who illegally imported the gun from China. (You know how you can buy "knock-off" Louis Vuitton purses in Asia? You can also buy "knock-off" Uzi's.)
I identified the mentally-ill Nazi-sympathizer who provided the illegal gun to the murderer—knowing that he intended to shoot people, and got a confession from him. I and my bosses begged the United States Attorney’s Office in Seattle to prosecute him, but even a personal appeal to Attorney General Janet Reno by an FBI Assistant Director failed to get us a prosecution. I still don’t understand why.
I would suggest to the reader that I have had more guns pointed at me than you have at you. I have seen the emotional damage done to FBI agents who had to take lives with firearms. I have experienced the shock at FBI agent deaths to gunfire. Even members of my family have been the victims of violent crime. I am not insensitive or naïve to the potential violence of firearms. I believe that the right to a firearm is absolute only until a person gives any indication they cannot be trusted—such as (but not limited to) a felony conviction or mental health issues. I believe the average citizen does not need bazookas, mortars or smart-bombs. But I’m not so sure that mentally stable, law-abiding persons can’t be trusted with a semi-automatic rifle, regardless of whether the handle is a pistol grip or a stock. Reasonable people know that the firepower difference between an evil AR-15 “assault rifle” and a California-legal Ruger Mini-14 is exactly zero.
10 round magazines? Okay, but I was trained to swap magazines in less than a second. Many private shooters can beat that. Short magazines laws are nothing but an annoyance to law-abiding citizens protecting their homes, and yet another law potential murderers will ignore. A determined head-case will simply buy illegal magazines via mail order from overseas—or bring a couple dozen 10 round magazines. NOT ONCE IN ANY SCHOOL or MALL or THEATER or OTHER MASS SHOOTING HAS THE SHOOTER RUN OUT OF AMMO. He'll bring all the magazines he needs. Several times, I have recovered high-capacity murder weapons jammed and discarded. Frankly, very large magazines are more likely to jam and make a firearm useless. Making nut-cases use small-cap magazines would actually make their weapons more reliable. Low capacity magazines are a red-herring to make politicians look like they’re doing something. Only the law-abiding citizens will be handicapped
I am continually astounded that well-meaning people believe that criminals intent on violence will be influenced by realizing that their plans or their tools are "against the law."
One has only to examine prohibition or the last few decades of the "War on Drugs" to see the mechanism of failure which will occur if and when guns are outlawed. Certainly, just because a law is unenforceable does not mean--in and of itself--that the law should not be enacted. But sometimes it does. In both prohibition and the war on drugs, what the nation accomplished is the creation of massively powerful organized crime groups (La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.) Tens of thousands have died in the "wars" and territorial fighting among the gangs, our prisons have filled with otherwise law-abiding citizens, and the U.S. has spent billions of dollars to do all that. Had the U.S. legalized most of the drugs (I still think the drugs are horrible), taxed them significantly, and used the proceeds for awareness and treatment, our prisons would be less crowded, the drug cartels could not topple governments, and our deficit would be more manageable.
And that's a discussion regarding a truly evil substance with no socially redeeming value. Guns protect people.
If one were to significantly limit or ban private ownership of legitimate guns, there would be a MUCH larger explosion of organized crime, because more Americans (by a factor of tens) own guns than use drugs. The criminals would not be impacted, as possession of guns by them is already prohibited. Only those who want firearms to protect their families will be negatively impacted, and a whole new class of criminal--those who want to protect their families--would be created. And not one violent psychotic would ever be prevented from killing. Oh, we might modify their method, their timing, or the money they have to spend, but killers will kill. Period. In the whole of human history, nobody has found a way to 'de-violence' a society with law enforcement.
With the track record of prohibition and the war on drugs, I am constantly amazed that anybody would believe that laws would influence a criminal to obey laws.
I remember vividly the debate when California proposed mandating motorcycle helmet use. I remember understanding both sides of the argument and agreeing with both sides. I think anybody who rides without a helmet (and I once rode motorcycles) is a fool. But I believe they have the right to be a fool. I consider not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle a kind of Darwinian method of improving the species. If you’re too dumb to wear a motorcycle helmet, it’s just as well you’re not around to breed. I can understand the debate. But honestly, can you imagine the debate you would have if California proposed a law BANNING motorcycle helmets?
Those advocating banning of self-defense weapons don’t see their crusade that way. Those who believe as I do, that the right to possess personal firearms is crucial—do see it that way. I see it as the right to protect my family, which I take more seriously than I can express. And always will.
The debate needs to be civilized, the debate needs to be respectful, and the debate needs to be lawful. But the events of last week have reinforced my belief that absent any individual reason to the contrary, the right to keep and bear arms must not be abridged. Even in the safest community in the nation.
The criminal case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is, for all intents and purposes over.
The political circus is just beginning.
April 6, 2009, 3:32 a.m.: The quaint Italian town of L’Aquila, just 114 miles from Perugia, was struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. 297 people died.
October 22, 2012: In an event which sent shock waves around the world, the earth moved in Italy yet again when six Italian seismologists were arrested and charged with manslaughter for not predicting the L’Aquila earthquake. Incredulous experts from around the world testified that earthquakes are scientifically unpredictable at this point in the history of mankind—a fact disputed nowhere on earth, except one Italian courtroom. The scientists were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison—each. The main damage in this quake was to six innocent seismologists and the justice system of Italy.
The courts in L'aquila were devastated. In more ways than one.
Certainly, Italian ‘justice’ has a history of preying on its own good people. The Italian Inquisitions of the 1500’s and 1600’s are infamous for the persecution of people propounding scientific truth. The legendary scientist and astronomer Galileo, for example, fell afoul of the inquisition for espousing certain theories of Copernicus; in particular, the theory that the earth rotated around the sun—which it did and still does. A lot of people are unaware that Galileo died under house arrest in Italy. 1,250 other people are alleged to have been executed for similar “heresy” during this time. One would hope that nearly 600 years later, Italian justice would have improved. One would be wrong.
Tragically, on March 26, 2013, another feudal judicial decision was handed down when the Italian Court of Cassation, the Italian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to formally affirm the full appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, regardless of the fact that their innocence is almost as widely accepted and scientificlly proven as Copernicus’ theory.
Sadly, this is not an isolated anomaly. Italy is displaying with frightening regularity a type of vendetta-based ‘justice’ many are calling ‘medieval.’ In 1999, the very same Court of Cassation which failed to accept Knox and Sollecito’s proven innocence, ruled in a rape case that women wearing tight jeans cannot be raped. This was not the decision of a little back-water town judge remember, this was the Italian Supreme Court. The logic was based on the apparently inescapable conclusion that tight jeans could not be removed from a woman by an attacker. I suppose their conclusion is that man can predict earthquakes, but it is a physical impossibility for him to remove a woman’s jeans. The court ruled tight jeans could not be removed “…without the collaboration of the person wearing them.” I’m not making this up.
However, just this last summer, the Court of Cassation outdid themselves; they ruled that it is a crime to tell someone “You don’t have the balls.” Seriously. That this case even got to the supreme court in Italy is mind-boggling and indicative of the juvenile/macho mentality of most of the judiciary there. Their decision is incomprehensible. The court found that the phrase inherently implied “…a lack of determination, competence and consistency – virtues which, rightly or wrongly, continue to be regarded as suggestive of the male gender.” This raises a question I’m sure it would take a legal scholar and a Ouija board to answer: Would it be a crime to tell a woman “You don’t have the balls?” One could only assume it would depend on whether she was wearing tight jeans or not.
In the Knox/Sollecito case, a prosecutor (Giuliano Mignini) under indictment (ultimately convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison) created an incredibly complex, imagination-based case against two innocent kids in order to, according to many experts, shield himself from conviction or even further prosecution. During the Italian Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, the main charges besides heresy were sorcery, immorality and witchcraft. And Mignini’s allegations against Knox? She was a “strega” (witch) and she engaged in “satanic sex rituals.” Sounds vaguely familiar, no? Also familiar is the fact that no evidence existed to support the claims of either the inquisition or Mignini. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Mignini lied about evidence in public, violated any rule of evidence which did not support his case (in reality, nothing supported his case) and got a conviction he apparently hoped would raise no eyebrows. He was wrong.
When the case was appealed--almost automatic in Italy, where half of all cases are reversed on appeal--the first action of the appeals court was to order that Mignini’s “evidence” be reviewed by independent experts. Italy is not completely devoid of honorable justices; they are simply in the minority. The judge in this appeal had to be imported from northern Italy near Austria in the hopes that he would be free of bias. He was. He not only allowed modern science into the courtroom, he ordered it there.
DNA which prosecutor Mignini had claimed implicated Knox and Sollecito was found to have never existed, was intentionally or incompetently attributed, or so badly read that Mignini’s ‘experts’ couldn’t even tell gender by reading DNA. The police forensic investigation in this case made the Keystone Kops look like CSI New York. In a stinging rebuke, the appellate judge and jury not only exonerated Knox and Sollecito, but declared that the evidence didn’t simply fail to prove their guilt, but that it actually proved their innocence. The two kids were released after four years of unjust imprisonment. And that is where it should have ended.
But in Italy, as opposed to most democracies, a prosecutor can appeal even a “not guilty” verdict. In Italy, a prosecutor can keep re-trying a case until he gets a conviction. This ‘2 out of 3’ jurisprudence results in a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” legal system, where even evidence as solid as a rock can be rendered moot by a single sheet of paper. Mignini appealed the ‘innocente’ verdict, and the Court of Cassation rendered a verdict as stunning in its ignorance as the failure to predict the earthquake decision.
At this moment, news outlets are providing incomplete or inaccurate information on the case. To set the record straight, I would like to point out certain facts which are true at this moment:
Amanda and Raffaele’s exonerations have not been vacated. By Italian law, they are still adjudicated innocent persons.
No retrial has yet been ordered.
Not until the Court of Cassation releases their “Motivations” document in approximately 70 days or so will any decision have the affect of law. Retrial is a possibility, of course, but so is limited re-examination of certain pieces of evidence not already reviewed by the independent authority. There is no indication that the court has in any way challenged the validity of the independent authority’s review of the main pieces of discredited ‘evidence’ which led to the exoneration in the first place.
There is no indication that the court rejected any of the findings of the appellate court, their questions actually centering on why more of Mignini’s supposed “evidence” was not reviewed by independent sources. Still, the decision reminds me very much of the 1972 Olympic Basketball gold-medal game in which the Americans, leading the Russian team by 3 at the end of regulation, twice had the clock reset to 3 seconds by the Russian referees, until the Russians “won” on a miracle shot. 40 years later, nobody but the Russian team and referees believe that they won
The Americans celebrate after they had won the game the second time. (They lost after the third time Russian referees inexplicably put time back on the clock.)
Absent more interference, however, any retrial would still favor Knox and Sollecito because:
A retrial would be removed from the feudal, Mignini-controlled town of Perugia, and placed in Florence. Perugia has the judicial integrity of 1963 Selma, Alabama. Knox and Sollecito's exonerations on appeal were only possible because a judge and jury were brought in from out of town due to the bias of the locals.
The city of Florence knows Mignini. They are the city that indicted him and convicted him of malfeasance, sentencing him to 16 months in prison.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, however, not a soul seriously believes that Amanda Knox will ever spend another day in an Italian prison. Double jeopardy, corrupt prosecutors, absence of witnesses or credible evidence, perjury by the police, and the requirement that Giuliano Mignini present his case in an American federal court (which actually requires evidence, truth, and fairness) make the prospect of extradition at the request of a kangaroo court the stuff of Mignini’s dreams.
Pratillo Hellman, the judge in the Knox/Sollecito appeal stands by his and the jury's unanimous decision to exonerate Knox and Sollecito, saying that there was absolutely no evidence of the involvement of the two in the crime. He also stated that he expected that the court of cassation would overturn his verdict, due to its close ties with the prosecutor.
Ultimately, regardless of the results of this modern inquisition, Amanda will never serve another unfair day in an Italian prison. The case, therefore has significance only to certain people:
1. Prosecutor Mignini, still trying valiantly to clear his name of malfeasance and false prosecution charges while waiting on his retrial decision.
2. The sadly deceived family of the innocent victim who have put their faith in a crooked prosecutor and a carnivorous Italian lawyer desperate for a share of a settlement from the wealthy Sollecito family.
3. The sadly imbalanced, anonymous, basement-dwelling anti-Knox bloggers in Great Britain and America who have drunk the Kool-Aid of the prosecutor to the dregs and are focused more on hate than justice. This case will, for several more years give imagined purpose to their otherwise sad existence.
4. Raffaele Sollecito, who is at this writing still a citizen of Italy and vulnerable to the whims of a judiciary largely based on innuendo.
In case the reader perceives this article as an indictment of Italy or the Italian people, let me assure you that is not the case. Since the appalling ruling came down, I have received texts, phone calls, E-mails and social media communications from prominent, published Italian forensic scientists, professors, DNA specialists, criminal profilers and lawyers, decrying the decision and offering their pro-bono assistance to the Knox family. Indeed, after the exoneration of Knox in October, 2011, I spent two days with Amanda in Italy and witnessed an almost non-stop stream of Italian citizens apologizing (sometimes tearfully) for what happened to her. They hugged, they kissed and they smiled. They know what its like to live under that system. The Italian people deserve a better justice system. They deserve more Judge Hellmans.
While Amanda is in no real danger of ever being forced to submit to the corrupt Italian justice system again, (it’s a different story for Italian citizen Raffaele Sollecito), she can’t just do what the 1972 Olympic Men’s basketball team did and simply boycott a corrupt proceeding. They refused their silver medals and did not attend the medal ceremony.
Amanda can't do that. She has to spend money to defend her name. It’s just a shame that two innocent kids got robbed. Again. It took the Russian referees three tries to steal the honest victory from the Americans in Munich. It may take even longer for the Italians to steal Amanda and Raffaele’s “innocence.” That’s the sad part. Nobody but the Russians doubt that the Americans won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, and nobody but Italians, the ignorant and the malignant doubt that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.
Why then didn’t the Court of Cassation do the honorable and right thing and affirm the appellate decision? Why didn’t they act bravely and decisively? Why didn’t they exonerate two good kids in the face of overwhelming evidence of their innocence? Why didn’t they display the --in their own words--“determination, competence and consistency” which are suggestive of their own male gender?
Are they corrupt?
It seems to me that they just didn't have the balls.
Rarely do I find a treatise which seems to expresses my personal thoughts and feelings even better than I could put into words. This is not because I am a superior writer--far from it--but it is rare that I find a piece written by another in which no light exists between my position and theirs. this is one such piece.
David Mamet is a writer, director and playwright, and this piece was published today in Newsweek's online blog, The Daily Beast. It is an important piece, and fairly outlines the divide between those who would tell others what they "need," and what they "can't have" in violation of what we all cherish; the constitution.
GUN LAWS AND THE FOOLS OF CHELM
Karl Marx summed up Communism as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This is a good, pithy saying, which, in practice, has succeeded in bringing, upon those under its sway, misery, poverty, rape, torture, slavery, and death.
For the saying implies but does not name the effective agency of its supposed utopia. The agency is called “The State,” and the motto, fleshed out, for the benefit of the easily confused must read “The State will take from each according to his ability: the State will give to each according to his needs.” “Needs and abilities” are, of course, subjective. So the operative statement may be reduced to “the State shall take, the State shall give.”
All of us have had dealings with the State, and have found, to our chagrin, or, indeed, terror, that we were not dealing with well-meaning public servants or even with ideologues but with overworked, harried bureaucrats. These, as all bureaucrats, obtain and hold their jobs by complying with directions and suppressing the desire to employ initiative, compassion, or indeed, common sense. They are paid to follow orders.
Rule by bureaucrats and functionaries is an example of the first part of the Marxist equation: that the Government shall determine the individual’s abilities.
As rules by the Government are one-size-fits-all, any governmental determination of an individual’s abilities must be based on a bureaucratic assessment of the lowest possible denominator. The government, for example, has determined that black people (somehow) have fewer abilities than white people, and, so, must be given certain preferences. Anyone acquainted with both black and white people knows this assessment is not only absurd but monstrous. And yet it is the law.
President Obama, in his reelection campaign, referred frequently to the “needs” of himself and his opponent, alleging that each has more money than he “needs.”
But where in the Constitution is it written that the Government is in charge of determining “needs”? And note that the president did not say “I have more money than I need,” but “You and I have more than we need.” Who elected him to speak for another citizen?
It is not the constitutional prerogative of the Government to determine needs. One person may need (or want) more leisure, another more work; one more adventure, another more security, and so on. It is this diversity that makes a country, indeed a state, a city, a church, or a family, healthy. “One-size-fits-all,” and that size determined by the State has a name, and that name is “slavery.”
The Founding Fathers, far from being ideologues, were not even politicians. They were an assortment of businessmen, writers, teachers, planters; men, in short, who knew something of the world, which is to say, of Human Nature. Their struggle to draft a set of rules acceptable to each other was based on the assumption that we human beings, in the mass, are no damned good—that we are biddable, easily confused, and that we may easily be motivated by a Politician, which is to say, a huckster, mounting a soapbox and inflaming our passions.
The Constitution’s drafters did not require a wag to teach them that power corrupts: they had experienced it in the person of King George. The American secession was announced by reference to his abuses of power: “He has obstructed the administration of Justice … he has made Judges dependant on his will alone … He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws … He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass out people and to eat out their substance … imposed taxes upon us without our consent… [He has] fundamentally altered the forms of our government.”
This is a chillingly familiar set of grievances; and its recrudescence was foreseen by the Founders. They realized that King George was not an individual case, but the inevitable outcome of unfettered power; that any person or group with the power to tax, to form laws, and to enforce them by arms will default to dictatorship, absent the constant unflagging scrutiny of the governed, and their severe untempered insistence upon compliance with law.
The Founders recognized that Government is quite literally a necessary evil, that there must be opposition, between its various branches, and between political parties, for these are the only ways to temper the individual’s greed for power and the electorates’ desires for peace by submission to coercion or blandishment.
Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervor, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, willful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties. It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.
Many are opposed to private ownership of firearms, and their opposition comes under several heads. Their specific objections are answerable retail, but a wholesale response is that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms. On a lower level of abstraction, there are more than 2 million instances a year of the armed citizen deterring or stopping armed criminals; a number four times that of all crimes involving firearms.
The Left loves a phantom statistic that a firearm in the hands of a citizen is X times more likely to cause accidental damage than to be used in the prevention of crime, but what is there about criminals that ensures that their gun use is accident-free? If, indeed, a firearm were more dangerous to its possessors than to potential aggressors, would it not make sense for the government to arm all criminals, and let them accidentally shoot themselves? Is this absurd? Yes, and yet the government, of course, is arming criminals.
Violence by firearms is most prevalent in big cities with the strictest gun laws. In Chicago and Washington, D.C., for example, it is only the criminals who have guns, the law-abiding populace having been disarmed, and so crime runs riot.
Cities of similar size in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and elsewhere, which leave the citizen the right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed in the Constitution, typically are much safer. More legal guns equal less crime. What criminal would be foolish enough to rob a gun store? But the government alleges that the citizen does not need this or that gun, number of guns, or amount of ammunition.
But President Obama, it seems, does.
He has just passed a bill that extends to him and his family protection, around the clock and for life, by the Secret Service. He, evidently, feels that he is best qualified to determine his needs, and, of course, he is. As I am best qualified to determine mine.
For it is, again, only the Marxists who assert that the government, which is to say the busy, corrupted, and hypocritical fools most elected officials are (have you ever had lunch with one?) should regulate gun ownership based on its assessment of needs.
Q. Who “needs” an assault rifle?
A. No one outside the military and the police. I concur.
An assault weapon is that which used to be called a “submachine gun.” That is, a handheld long gun that will fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down.
These have been illegal in private hands (barring those collectors who have passed the stringent scrutiny of the Federal Government) since 1934. Outside these few legal possessors, there are none in private hands. They may be found in the hands of criminals. But criminals, let us reflect, by definition, are those who will not abide by the laws. What purpose will passing more laws serve?
My grandmother came from Russian Poland, near the Polish city of Chelm. Chelm was celebrated, by the Ashkenazi Jews, as the place where the fools dwelt. And my grandmother loved to tell the traditional stories of Chelm.
Its residents, for example, once decided that there was no point in having the sun shine during the day, when it was light out—it would be better should it shine at night, when it was dark. Similarly, we modern Solons delight in passing gun laws that, in their entirety, amount to “making crime illegal.”
What possible purpose in declaring schools “gun-free zones”?
Who bringing a gun, with evil intent, into a school would be deterred by the sign?
Ah, but perhaps one, legally carrying a gun, might bring it into the school.
We need more armed citizens in the schools.
Walk down Madison Avenue in New York. Many posh stores have, on view, or behind a two-way mirror, an armed guard. Walk into most any pawnshop, jewelry story, currency exchange, gold store in the country, and there will be an armed guard nearby. Why? As currency, jewelry, gold are precious. Who complains about the presence of these armed guards? And is this wealth more precious than our children?
Apparently it is: for the Left adduces arguments against armed presence in the school but not in the wristwatch stores. Q. How many accidental shootings occurred last year in jewelry stores, or on any premises with armed security guards?
Why not then, for the love of God, have an armed presence in the schools? It could be done at the cost of a pistol (several hundred dollars), and a few hours of training (that’s all the security guards get). Why not offer teachers, administrators, custodians, a small extra stipend for completing a firearms-safety course and carrying a concealed weapon to school? The arguments to the contrary escape me.
Why do I specify concealed carry? As if the weapons are concealed, any potential malefactor must assume that anyone on the premises he means to disrupt may be armed—a deterrent of even attempted violence.
Yes, but we should check all applicants for firearms for a criminal record?
Anyone applying to purchase a handgun has, since 1968, filled out a form certifying he is not a fugitive from justice, a convicted criminal, or mentally deficient. These forms, tens and tens of millions of them, rest, conceivably, somewhere in the vast repository. How are they checked? Are they checked? By what agency, with what monies? The country is broke. Do we actually want another agency staffed by bureaucrats for whom there is no funding?
The police do not exist to protect the individual. They exist to cordon off the crime scene and attempt to apprehend the criminal. We individuals are guaranteed by the Constitution the right to self-defense. This right is not the Government’s to “award” us. They have never been granted it.
The so-called assault weapons ban is a hoax. It is a political appeal to the ignorant. The guns it supposedly banned have been illegal (as above) for 78 years. Did the ban make them “more” illegal? The ban addresses only the appearance of weapons, not their operation.
Will increased cosmetic measures make anyone safer? They, like all efforts at disarmament, will put the citizenry more at risk. Disarmament rests on the assumption that all people are good, and, basically, want the same things.
But if all people were basically good, why would we, increasingly, pass more and more elaborate laws?
The individual is not only best qualified to provide his own personal defense, he is the only one qualified to do so: and his right to do so is guaranteed by the Constitution.
President Obama seems to understand the Constitution as a “set of suggestions.” I cannot endorse his performance in office, but he wins my respect for taking those steps he deems necessary to ensure the safety of his family. Why would he want to prohibit me from doing the same?
David Mamet is a playwright, director, and writer.
The Mother of All Gun Control and the .357 Magnum
I want to say from the beginning that as a second amendment advocate and political conservative, I have what many of my friends and relatives might consider an almost unreasonable respect for Diane Feinstein. It is not because I agree with her politics or her views on gun control, though she does claim to endorse the validity of the second amendment.
When I was in college on November 27, 1978 in Northern California, I was shocked to learn that a fraternity brother of mine was murdered in cold blood in his own office just 80 miles from where I sat. He had graduated from the University of the Pacific many years before I would, so I had never met him. But San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was, by all accounts, a good man. He was gunned down by a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who suffered from mental issues; Dan White. White was enraged because he was unable to withdraw his resignation from the board of supervisors. He blamed Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk. After wounding, then methodically executing Moscone, White then gunned down Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office in America. The movie "Milk," starring Sean Penn, was based on Milk’s life and death.
I remember vividly the horror of clinging to the television all that afternoon as the news got worse and worse – and worse. I remember Supervisor Dianne Feinstein standing up and announcing to the assembled press corps the terrible reality of the shooting and the deaths. While I do not agree with her politics, I felt that the way she handled herself that horrible evening was commendable and she earned my respect.
While I'm not likely to ever vote for Ms. Feinstein, I respect her as a logical, intelligent human being. That is why I was not surprised to hear that when she became the target of vicious terrorist threats and attacks, she availed herself of the privileges guaranteed by the second amendment:
Feinstein got a gun.
The gun Diane Feinstein got was a. 38/.357 caliber Smith & Wesson “snub-nose;” a short, small revolver commonly referred to as a “Chief’s Special.” She also received from the police chief of San Francisco, a permit to carry a concealed weapon, commonly known as a ‘CCW.’
Besides its provenance, the other reason Feinstein’s gun should be called a “Chief’s Special” is that if you or I lived in San Francisco and were terrorized by a group bent on harming us, or just needed protection because of a stalker or living and working in a high-crime area, we could not obtain a CCW from the Chief of the San Francisco police. He doesn’t give them out to common citizens. For any reason. Ever. Only to politicians. And in particular, one who believes gun regulations need to be strict, and all exceptions removed.
Dianne Feinstein, the mother of all gun-control politicians, found herself in fear for her life. So, she got a gun. I applaud her for that. But then she used her political connections to get a CCW that normal citizens cannot get, bypassing--- wait for it --- gun control regulations. Dianne Feinstein getting a gun is wonderful for me. Getting it using privilege she wishes to deny others is hypocrisy.
There is another, more subtle irony here that I would hesitate to call hypocrisy. The stated purpose of Feinstein's gun control legislation is to "save innocent lives." I get that, and I endorse that. But her choice of her personal gun illustrated perfectly the problem with gun control. The very gun she purchased to defend herself was almost identical to the gun which started her crusade against gun violence--the Dan White murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Except that Feinstein's version was more powerful and more concealable than White's. Power, conceal-ability, and a quick reload; the three-headed monster of gun control.
Feinstein purchased a Smith & Wesson revolver. How was Ms. Feinstein's gun different from White's? Dianne's gun was easier to hide, carried one less bullet, but was 20% quicker to reload. It fires the .357 cartridge which travels as much as twice the speed of Dan White's .38 caliber bullets, which could not fire .357. In short, it is significantly more dangerous as an offensive weapon than Dan White's Model 10.
Feinstein's .357 on the left, White's .38 on the right. The senator's gun was more powerful, faster to reload and more concealable. Otherwise, they are nearly identical. Don't be fooled by the longer barrel on White's less powerful gun. It's a puppy compared to the .357.
The Chief’s Special Ms. Feinstein obtained was the same type of weapon that I used for years as an undercover agent in the FBI. It was also nearly identical to the Chief’s Special my father carried during his career in the FBI. I think of it fondly. Neither my father’s gun nor mine has ever been fired in anger, and in 51 years, neither of these guns have ever injured or killed anybody. But I can tell you mine has saved my life.
The .38/.357 special “Snub-nose” is perfect for concealment. It can be hidden in a belt, a purse, or even a pocket. For a long time, I even carried mine on undercover meetings in the inside of a pair of cowboy boots equipped with a custom-made holster. It fires five rounds of a .357 caliber cartridge. When combined with hollow-point bullet tips, (almost always), the .357 is a deadly weapon.
It is also a well-made law-enforcement and personal defense tool, as Senator Feinstein would have to admit. It is cast from high-carbon or stainless steel, machined to Swiss-watch tolerances and is reliable in the extreme. In the 50+ years my father and I carried our Chief’s Specials, not once did either cause a misfire. They are beautiful pieces of engineering. I’m sorry, but if flag-burning is “free speech,” then well-made guns are art. Period.
The Devil in the Details
Dianne Feinstein has re-introduced the Assault Weapons Ban in the United States Senate. Her bill would exempt “weapons legally owned on the day of enactment and over 900 specific weapons ‘used for hunting or sporting purposes.’”
While that caveat is a good start, there is a landmine in the wording. The exemptions promised are for two reasons only, “hunting” or “sporting.” But the firearms right of which Senator Feinstein availed herself "self-defense" related neither to sport nor hunting. Senator Feinstein knows that as a senator or retired senator, she will have no trouble obtaining armed protection in the future, regardless of the laws she authors which deny the same right to her constituents.
Let me assure you, no serious scholar believes that the founding fathers enacted the second amendment because they were hunters or sportsmen. They were defenders of life and liberty.
In the past year, I have spoken with literally dozens of friends and acquaintances who have asked for my assistance or advice in purchasing firearms and/or obtaining firearms training. Not a single one of them asked advice on a choosing or shooting a hunting gun or a competition gun. Every single person I spoke with, without exception, wanted information on how to best defend themselves.
My opinion on this matter is likely well known by those of you who know me. Simply purchasing a pistol and putting it in your house and feeling that you have made yourself safer is like the person who desires to hear violin beautiful music and (rather than purchasing an iPod) goes to a store and purchases a violin, expecting to hear beautiful violin music.
That said, the second amendment guarantees the right to self-protection. The second amendment was not put in as a gesture towards sportsmen. It was not put in the constitution as a gesture towards shooting sports. Make no mistake, when politicians remove “self-defense” as a legitimate reason to own a firearm from legislation, they are eviscerating the second amendment.
As a final note, after Senator Feinstein felt the threat against her had passed, Feinstein, who is Jewish, had the gun melted down and formed into a cross, which was given to the Pope. Which makes as much sense as owning a self-defense gun and denying that right to the people who hired her.
The Wizard of Oz is a classic piece of literature and cinema in which an innocent girl and her loveable dog find themselves in a world they don’t recognize and where there is danger at every turn. Oz is a place where even an innocent young girl could meet sudden death at the hands of unimaginable evil. It is also the story of a quest to return to the familiar, warm and safe world she once knew.
America is on its own, similar, post-Newtown, Connecticut quest. We have all been thrust into a new world where innocent children meet sudden death at the hands of unimaginable evil, and we are all desperately longing for the world we knew before, where loving friends embraced us, where we were safe, and where the world still made sense.
Like Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Unlike Dorothy, we can’t go back.
Yet still, we’re being told to follow a ‘Yellow-brick road’ which promises to guide us back to safety and security. But this road is both monolithic and naive. It is a route which depends upon equal parts wishful thinking and emotion. But the hard truth is that the genie is out of the bottle; guns will never be erased from the world, nor this society in particular. Depending solely on a solution which has at its core a requirement for the complete unavailability of guns is simply a dizzy panacea Neville Chamberlain might have championed. Prohibition taught us that, the 'war on drugs' tells us that, and the increasing size of the 'nuclear fraternity' tells us that.
People from all sides of the political spectrum have suggested road maps out of our current crisis. It seems, however, that many want to disregard answers which do not support their pre-determined position or advance their political view of firearms (good or bad), the second amendment or civil liberties. One example is the suggestion of putting armed protection for the children in schools, which is inexplicably drawing criticism.
Likely, most of the criticism is due to the source of the suggestion; Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), rather than due to the merits of the suggestion. The reluctance of some Americans to be willing to protect the lives of their own children in school is mind-boggling and frankly, troubling.
Sadly, the road of gold we’ve been told to follow leads not to the promised land, but to the land of false hope. Along the way we, like Dorothy, are meeting a cast of strangely familiar characters.
The Straw Man
Oz’s straw man, “Scarecrow,” had a specific need; he lacked a….well, he lacked knowledge.
John Crisp, a teacher at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, is in all likelihood a principled, intelligent man. However, he recently commented on a topic on which he appears to have little experience or knowledge. Mr. Crisp opined on the topic of armed guards in elementary schools (as postulated by the NRA) on January 2, 2013 in a syndicated newspaper editorial. In that editorial, Mr. Crisp alleges;
“The NRA imagines that no deranged killer would dare enter a school protected by a retired police officer with a .38 revolver.”
No, they actually don’t, Mr. Crisp. You and you alone have postulated that our children be protected by “a retired police officer with a .38 revolver.” What was actually said, according to the transcript, was a call for "qualified" armed security, and your glib statement about a .38 revolver is not helpful; especially at the time when anti-gun movements are labeling anything more capable than a revolver a 'semi-automatic' weapon. Your answer intentionally infers lack of qualification or ability. Putting untrained, armed persons (even ex-police officers) in schools is not a safe option, and not one that anybody is seriously advocating.
I have no idea of what Mr. Crisp teaches at Del Mar College, but he apparently has not made himself familiar with the behavior, actions, history, strategy or statistics involving active shooters and active-shooter attacks. I have. I spent years studying and instructing on active shooter prevention and interdiction. I am a certified firearms instructor, and have spent hundreds of hours instructing law enforcement officers and private executive protection teams how to respond effectively to an active shooter. I spent more than two straight years training active-shooter response teams at a major university how to effectively end an active-shooter attack on their campus.
Mr. Crisp's first misconception is with the attacker himself.
Almost always, the active shooter’s end-game is to die in the attack. Their homicidal ideation requires control of the world around them to the point that they cannot allow themselves to be killed by law enforcement. Part of the satisfaction they get is denying that ‘privilege’ to anybody but themselves. Therefore, in almost every single recorded case, the active shooter has ended their attack, fled or (usually) killed themselves at the moment they were engaged by any armed resistance, police or civilian. This is a statistical fact, not some imagined theory about what such an attack would look like. This fact is proven by the Newtown shooting itself. Lanza, though he was wearing a ballistic vest, killed himself when confronted by the first police officers. He had no intention of “shooting it out.” It mattered not their training or even their weaponry. He killed himself at the sight of them!
I have been an FBI first-responder to a school shooting where five-year olds were machine-gunned coming back into the school after playing soccer. I have seen the blood, I have spoken with terrified parents. I have been on site while the SWAT teams searched for the shooter. I spent years on those SWAT teams. I have interviewed a school-shooter hours after he shot children. He told me face to face that he had chosen the school he attacked over all others he cased because the others had security. He didn’t even remember whether the guards which intimidated him were armed or not.
The shooter also told me that he stopped shooting and fled the school when he heard sirens. He had intended to kill himself, but didn’t have it in him. It’s one thing to shoot a defenseless child, it’s another thing to kill one’s self or fight it out with cops. If school shooters were brave fighters, they wouldn’t be shooting children.
(As a point of fact, the following was true in the shooting to which I responded:
1. The gun used was a Chinese-made "knock-off" of an Uzi, which was shipped to the U.S. from China. Yes, a "knock-off" like a Gucci purse or fake Ray Bans. Knock off guns are made in dozens of countries around the world by unregulated, unregistered entities; much like cocaine.
2. The gun was illegal in all fifty states.
3. The gun was unregistered, and not purchased through a gun store; the purchase was illegal even if the gun was legal.
4. The gun had been heavily modified--it had been shortened and converted to a sub-machine gun--by the shooter using tools he purchased at Lowes--not purchased or regulated gun parts.
5. The shooter was a convicted felon who was not legally allowed to possess a firearm of any kind.
6. The shooter was two months out of a mental hospital where he had checked himself in for "an overpowering urge to kill people." He warned the doctors not to release him--that he would kill. They did, and he did.
7. It was illegal to possess that gun on school grounds in California.
8. In possessing the gun and committing the crime, the shooter violated over a dozen existing gun laws. Laws against what he possessed and used were useless.
9. The U.S. Justice Department, specifically the United States Attorney in Seattle, Washington, refused to prosecute the individual who illegally procured the weapon for the known-felon shooter, even after a personal letter to Janet Reno from the United States Attorney in Los Angeles.
10. It can hardly be said that gun laws allowed the crime. The shooter just ignored them. This was much more an abject failure of the mental health system.)
Mr. Crisp simply doesn’t understand the subject about which he is offering an opinion. This illustrates the importance of experts making decisions; not uninvolved, unfamiliar pundits. Crisp’s reasoning, by the way, would also invalidate the need for anybody to know first aid or CPR. Though nobody is suggesting “a retired cop with a .38,” just such a person at Newtown would have saved lives, regardless of Crisp’s opinion. Not because the retired cop would win a gun battle with Lanza, but because Lanza would have killed himself had he been confronted.
If I sound upset, it is because uninformed people are making fallacious arguments which have the potential of allowing the deaths of children.
There is another type of “straw man.” As those who have passed high-school level logic courses know, a ‘straw man’ is an argument which is invalid because it misrepresents the opponent’s position. "Retired cop with a .38" is a straw man.
The straw man status of Crisp’s argument is well-demonstrated by an opposite straw man example in another opinion piece which nonetheless agrees with Crisp’s overall position on armed protection for children. This time, it’s (not surprisingly) the tabloid New York Daily News, which published the following breathless headline on December 21, 2012:
“NRA's 'ludicrous' proposal to have armed guards at every school would cost $3.3 billion”
They followed the headline with an inflammatory photo of an FBI SWAT agent and a caption which might one day be known as "the mother of all straw man arguments."
“If NRA chief Wayne LaPierre had his way, all school kids would see something like this heavily armed FBI agent as they walked into their schools.”
Really? I couldn't find that in LaPierre's transcript. Well, which is it? A heavily-armed FBI SWAT agent, which will, according to one of the quotes in the article, “Ruin the learning environment," causing students to believe "...their schools are prisons," or an old, retired cop with a .38?
If you’re going to misrepresent the words of a man, you might at least both want to get on the same page.
On her journey in Oz, of course, Dorothy met a blustery but cowardly creature. To hide his fear, he tried to frighten others. He might have reminded one of the Daily News.
The Daily News headline screamed that protecting our own otherwise defenseless children in their schools would cost “$3.3 billion dollars” annually.
Following the attacks of September 11, the United States moved forward to protect airliners and their passengers, as well as those to whom they posed a danger to on the ground.
Sky Marshals were recruited and highly trained, and are on a large number of the tens of thousands of airline flights which launch throughout the United States every day. Does anybody doubt that Sky Marshals are highly skilled and well-armed? Does having them on our planes make anybody feel less safe? Does their presence make anybody feel as if they are in not an airliner, but a prison?
Have you ever even seen a Sky Marshal on a flight of yours? Have you ever even known one was there?
If the Untied States could, within just a few months, create the TSA and institute the training and deployment of highly-skilled, highly-trained, plain-clothes professional security personnel on board flights, why are we unable to conceive of that for our children? If we are willing to protect 150 businessmen and vacationers on an airline flight, are we not willing to protect 500 unarmed, helpless, innocent elementary school children in their school? Do they deserve less? We have armed security in our banks. Is our money more important than our children?
No, we're not in Kansas anymore, and we're not going back. Yes, it’s a harsh reality that we have to contemplate our children being shot in their own schools. But does anybody doubt anymore that there is a danger?
Or are we simply lacking the courage to deal with the danger in a way which does not advance our personal political and social philosophies?
Finally, Dorothy met the Tin Man, a man who lacked a heart. He didn’t know how to love, he didn’t know how to care. He likely wouldn’t spend the money it took to protect somebody other than himself.
If the Daily News’ hysterical headline was true, it would cost $3.3 billion dollars annually to protect our children in their schools. To put that in perspective, TSA’s budget (including Sky Marshals) is $8.1 billion per year. Apparently, to some people, businessmen and women are more important than our children. Two-and-a-half times more important, to put a number on it.
For further perspective on the relative importance of $3.3 billion and our children (which the tabloid implied was "ludicrous"), the Daily News Headline for 1/2/13 screamed:
“'They told us to basically drop dead!' Angry New York residents and pols fuming over latest Sandy snub”
The snub, of course, was the failure of congress to vote on a $60 billion bill for relief for victims of hurricane Sandy. But $3 billion to keep our children from being shot to death in kindergarten? That's too much?
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
After 9/11, America’s number one national priority was the war on terrorism. I know, I was in charge of the FBI’s Al Qaeda investigations squad in Los Angeles. But concurrently with combating terrorism, (which only the most naïve person would believe will ever be completely stopped), we began protecting our facilities, our airliners and our people, with security, with guards and with weapons. But after Newtown, armed guards are 'ludicrous?'
A cynical person might be tempted to believe that anti-gun activists don’t want security in schools because that might undermine the perceived need for gun control. Guns as a solution? Horrified silence.
Do we need to learn better how to keep guns out of the hands of psychotic people? Yes.
Do we need to keep unnecessarily dangerous weapons out of civilian hands? Yes.
Do we need to rigorously enforce existing gun laws? Yes.
Should we be working on those things immediately? Yes.
Will that be sufficient in the short term? No.
Will that solve the problem in the long term? No.
We need to deal with the situation as it is today, not what we want it to be in a year. And we need to deal with a world where guns--even if drastically reduced, even if controlled and criminalized--and regardless of the fondest hopes and desires of many people, will never disappear from the face of the earth.
By not taking rational steps to safeguard our own flesh and blood while other steps (such as gun control) are underway, we are skipping down the yellow-brick road to oblivion.
"No good deed goes unpunished."
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who spent too much time on human rights and not enough time on 'politics.'
Today, I am both ecstatic and sad.
Jacob Ostreicher, the businessman from New York who has been wrongfully held in the hell-hole that is Santa Cruz Bolivia’s ‘Palmasola Prison’ for a year and a half without charges, was finally released. He had been held by a cabal of corrupt officers of the Bolivian court who were extorting him, and is free on bail.
The Bolivian government launched an investigation into prosecutorial corruption as a result of the Ostreicher case, and seven of Jacob’s prosecutors have been arrested for accused corruption. Jacob will now be living in Bolivia for the near future while those who extorted him are investigated, and his case is finally resolved.
Several people have championed Jacob’s case, and nearly all at their own personal cost. It is a tragic truth that advocating for the innocent carries with it personal consequences. Sean Penn was the latest to experience this. Penn is a widely criticized ‘progressive’ actor, who put his friendship and influence with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at risk by publicly demanding Ostreicher’s release. Long ago, evidence existed that Jacob was completely innocent, but I believe that it was Penn’s insistence that Ostreicher’s case be dealt with by the heads of state that broke the logjam and ultimately was the final act that resulted in Jacob’s freedom. Regardless of whether you agree with Penn’s activism, politics, or even his friendships, it would be disingenuous to deny that he risked personal capital for Jacob’s freedom. I personally want to thank him for that.
Before Penn, however, Jacob had an unlikely ally. Representative Chris Smith, a Republican U.S. Congressman from New Jersey, aggressively took on Jacob’s case. He was also in Bolivia last week demanding Jacob's release--though the U.S. press largely ignored it. Ostreicher is not a constituent of Smith. Smith is not Jewish, Jacob is. Jacob’s case was not famous or trendy. Jacob’s case does not make the cover (inside) of “People” magazine. There was no political capital to be gained. In short, Congressman Smith took on the case because it was the right thing to do, not because it was politically helpful to him. In fact, now it has cost him.
You see, Congressman Smith might be a leader, a tremendous legislator, a protector of his constituents and of the powerless, and an honorable elected official, but as a ‘politician,’ he stinks.
A Republican politician would know that co-sponsoring an amendment to renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban would infuriate his colleagues and cost him in support of the house leadership. But whether or not you agree with him or not, he was following his conscience, not counting votes. A congressional politician would realize that serving as co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Alzheimer’s Task Force, Coalition for Autism Research and the Spina Bifida Caucus might help a few people in need, but those organizations matter to a relatively few people, would take much valuable time and not gain him political favors.
Congressman Smith’s staunch conscience-directed fight for the rights of the unborn and against abortion likely won him points with his party. But he didn’t do it for points. If he had, he wouldn’t at the same time (again, due to his belief in the sanctity of life) fight against the death penalty.
He wouldn’t have spent so much time writing his three landmark bills to fight Human Trafficking and provide help and rehabilitation for the victims of this obscene crime. Because when he started his fight, Human Trafficking wasn’t really a high-visibility cause. A good politician would learn that there is great risk, but no money or votes in personally calling the Prime Minister of Montenegro to allege that girls were being held as sex slaves in a brothel in his country. The fact that the Prime Minister had the brothel raided and the girls freed did not make news in America. It helped Representative Smith not one iota.
This is the only kind of politician who would have taken up the case of Jacob Ostreicher, a conservative Jew from Brooklyn, held captive on false charges in a country thousands of miles from home: A politician so deaf to the siren-song call of votes and election contributions that he barges ahead anyway. What was he thinking? One wonders how Congressman Smith has maintained his elected seat for 22 years now.
And now, inevitably, it has cost him. Rep. Smith is currently the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, part of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. When the chairmanship of the overall House Committee on Foreign Affairs came open, Smith was the obvious, most senior choice. But he didn’t get the job.
Why? According to the Newark Star-Ledger:
“The far more politically involved Ed Royce of California — far below Smith in seniority — outmaneuvered his colleague and will assume the chairmanship in January. Smith actively sought the role, telling reporters last month the opening provided an “awesome opportunity to discuss my experience, passion and vision for the committee.”
The journalists were not surprised. “Smith,” they said, “Never a favorite of party leaders, has focused on constituent services and human rights rather than on inside politics and raising money for fellow Republicans.” A classic story; too much time on human rights and not enough time on ‘inside politics.’ What was he thinking?
Certainly, he should have known what was coming. Representative Smith was removed in 2005 as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom Delay, Why? For insisting that more be spent on veterans’ programs.
It makes you wonder how some people get elected to congress.
I have just confirmed with Jacob's wife (and one of my heroes) Miriam that reports from the Associated Press of Jacob's release are true.
He and Miriam are obviously ecstatic. Jacob is out of the Khafka-esque prison, Palmasola, and free to move around the country during the day, but is required to be at his home at night. Frankly, due to his health, I think it would be a pleasant surprise to see him out of the house within a month.
The release comes two weeks after the arrest of seven of his prosecutors, who are accused of extortion in his case, and just days after trips to Bolivia by Congressman Chris Smith, and activist Sean Penn. It was the selfless acts of these men which finally broke the logjam which kept an innocent man in a despotic prison.
I hope to speak with Jacob today and relay his thoughts to you. But for now, I am living in the moment.
The sun rises and sets in every country in the world. It cares nothing about national borders or languages. It is so supremely constant that we use its passage along the horizon to keep track of time. Another constant phenomenon which respects neither national borders nor language is corruption, because every country is populated by humans, and humans, regardless of nationality, are flawed. And therefore, every country in the world suffers from the occasional misbehavior of its government or judicial branch.
As an example; in 2007, a rogue Italian prosecutor arrested, imprisoned and convicted an innocent Italian man and his American girlfriend for the murder of the American girl’s close friend, a crime which was in actuality committed by a man who was, all circumstances seem to indicate, a police informant. The Italian man, Raffaele Sollecito and the American woman, Amanda Knox, were convicted and sentenced to 25 and 26 years in prison, respectively, for a crime all evidence strongly indicated they did not commit.
But in 2010, Italy, appalled by the apparent injustice, appointed a judge with no pre-conceived notions, no bias, and a desire only to find the truth. It was a brave move. That judge, the Honorable Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, presided over the appeal of the murder case, and in a proceeding that brought great honor to the nation of Italy, a jury of Italians declared Sollecito and Knox innocent.
No country is immune from the scourge of rogue police and prosecutors. Certainly not the United States.
In 2006, in the U.S., three American male college students, all members of the Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) lacrosse team were arrested for the forcible rape of a dancer employed to perform at a team party. The prosecutor on the case, Mike Nifong, claimed that he had evidence to substantiate the charges against the men.
In reality, Nifong had nothing to corroborate the charges. The victim, a prostitute, provided several contradicting stories of the alleged attack. DNA tests of the victim did not show a single match for any of the 46 lacrosse team players, but Nifong lied about the findings. In early 2007, under immense pressure and suspicion, Nifong was removed from the case and it was taken over by the state of North Carolina, and a truly unbiased investigation was conducted. Soon after, the accused men—all innocent—were exonerated. In April of the same year, the North Carolina attorney general called Nifong a “rogue prosecutor.” A judicial panel found him guilty of fraud, dishonesty, deceit, lying about material facts, and withholding exculpatory DNA evidence. He was convicted of criminal contempt and sentenced to a day in jail and disbarred.
As an FBI agent for a quarter of a century, I have seen my share of police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. The FBI is given the responsibility for the investigation of malfeasance by any officer of the court, from the lowliest policeman to the highest judge. I can tell you from sad experience that I have seen malfeasance at every level. I personally have investigated and recommended the prosecution of the chief of police of a large department. The FBI itself has investigated and prosecuted corrupt federal judges and even congressman, senators and other political officials. Sadly, I have even seen fellow agents found to be corrupt. It is heartbreaking.
When an act of obvious injustice occurs in any country, the temptation is to point to that country or to their leadership and claim that they too are corrupt. In reality, every country suffers from corruption at some level or another. It is the human condition. The fact that one member of a judiciary is corrupt does not mean the entire government is corrupt.
The question is not whether a country is going to suffer from corruption, but when. The greater question is what the country will do about the corruption they see.
Eighteen months ago, an American, Jacob Ostreicher, who was operating a rice farm in Bolivia, was arrested for “Illegal Enrichment.” Initial indications were that he may have committed no crime. I traveled to Bolivia at the request of his family to investigate this alleged crime, and I was ready to say that he was guilty if I believed that to be the case. But I believe that overwhelming evidence proves that he is innocent. I have significant experience in investigating international criminal activity, whether individual or government-sponsored. What I found was that Jacob was being extorted by a group of people, many of whom were members of the government, some of whom claimed to be operating on instructions and protocol from the highest levels of government.
I was vocal about my findings about corruption in the Bolivian Justice Ministry. I twice testified before the United States Congress. I prepared an extensive investigative report outlining my findings, and submitted that report to Congress, which provided it to the U.S. State Department and to the United Nations. Had nothing happened at that point, one might have been justified in claiming that the entirety of the Bolivian government was corrupt. But something did happen.
The President of Bolivia; Juan Evo Morales, listened.
President Evo Morales, Bolivia
President Morales ordered an investigation, and at this writing at least seven members of various government agencies involved in the case have been arrested and are awaiting charges and trial. Early on, seeing no movement in the case and watching Jacob languish in prison, I despaired as to whether the Bolivian government was going to take corrective action. Certainly I was critical of Bolivia, not just those who were guilty of the extortion, but now I see that much of that criticism was unjustified. As I have written in this article and previous articles, there is NO country which does not suffer from occasional lapses of judicial fairness. It is not whether it will happen that is the measure of a country or a government, it is what the country or government does about it.
Jacob Ostreicher and his granddaughters.
I am happy to report that under the leadership of President Morales, Bolivia is moving quickly in the right direction, and indications are that Mr. Morales is moving to get to the bottom of this case of injustice. He was elected as a man of the people, and the greatest measure of a president is not just whether he is the man of his OWN people, it is whether he is a man of ALL people. Jacob Ostreicher is an American. The fact that Bolivia has had disagreements with America is undisputed. The measure of a statesman, the measure of a government and the measure of a man is whether they can rise above petty, political differences, and in the name of humanity, do justice when it might be easier to seek political gain. President Morales appears to be doing his best to root out government corruption, even when the victim is an American.
It appears that President Morales is poised to prove himself a statesman and a leader of ALL people by the honorable correction of judicial oppression.