Saturday, June 18, 2016

Heinrich Backs Legislation To Prevent Suspected Terrorists From Purchasing Guns And Explosives, And Which Makes A Mockery of Civil Liberties

6-22-16 Addenum. New, improved, Collins-Heinrich et al bill.

In a political press release, Sen. Heinrich tells us that he backs legislation to put people who are on the terror watch list (TWL) on a Federal no-buy list for explosives and guns. Further, he quotes a GAO statement saying "known or suspected terrorists pass a background check to purchase a firearm or explosives 91 percent of the time."

First of all, that is a significant misreading of the GAO statement. What it actually gives are the number of people who bought firearms/explosives who are on the TWL. That doesn't necessarily mean they are known or suspected terrorists by any legal process that would pass the laugh test in a real court. It merely means they found themselves on Federal intelligence list to which the public has little access as far as obtaining redress, and often, little or no knowledge of why they are on the list to begin with.

As anyone who has followed the argument knows, it is easier for an innocent party to get on that list than it is to be removed. Hundreds of thousands find themselves on that list, some for a decade. Since it is primarily an intelligence list, petitioning or suing to be removed is often met with government secrecy rather than due process. Of course as Orlando shows, one can be deemed not a terrorist after an exhaustive investigation and still end up as a mass shooter. But as far as lists are concerned, there is one list, based on public information and due process, that Omar Mateen should have been on: the NICS, or National Instant Criminal Background Check System. As the New York Times and other media have reported, he was apparently a domestic abuser; that could have qualified him to be flagged as a no-buy person. Unfortunately, his first wife, whose family had to help her flee Omar, never pressed charges. Life and law are not so simple as making lists.

The bill that Mr. Heinrich supports, SB 551, removes none of the legal challenges to due process that are present in the workings of the TWL. Therefore, this largely secret, star chamber process should not be used to abridge an enumerated constitutional right, in this case the 2nd Amendment. Indeed, the ACLU has long said it should not be used to prohibit a person from boarding a plane unless the government designs a better way for people to challenge their status on the list.

Call Senators Heinrich and Udall and reiterate what the ACLU has long said: if we are to use this list to control people's lives under the rationale of public safety, whether to board a plane or buy a gun, first fix the due process considerations. In a phone call to Mr. Heinrich's staff, I suggested appointing Federal attorneys with security clearances to (aggressively) represent citizens on the TWL in closed Federal court so that these people have representatives who can argue their case from inside the wall of secrecy. I imagine there are other ideas as well. But the bottom line? Let's not throw out the Bill of Rights with the bathwater.

Latest from ACLU:  The Use of Error-Prone and Unfair Watchlists Is Not the Way to Regulate Guns in America

Somewhat unrelated. Point vs. counterpoint Dept.

Australia shows some gun bans work
Australia’s 1996 Gun Confiscation Didn’t Work – And it Wouldn’t Work in America

From Baker and McPhedran 2007, BRIT. J. CRIMINOL. (2007) 47, 455–469
The Aussie gun buyback program started in 1996

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whither Sheriff's Dept?

The recent deluge of letters to the Daily Post regarding the future of the Sheriff's Dept is conflating two issues: the department's desire to engage in scope creep vs. carrying out its traditional duties in Los Alamos County vs. Council's desire to eliminate the office, and the far right politics being espoused in some letters. Let's separate the two.

The question of eliminating the sheriff, i.e., whether the traditional duties of the Los Alamos Sheriff as described in our county's governance documents can be more cost effectively and safely carried out by other county staff should be analyzed. The councilors who are suggesting this change in governance should post the analysis here in the Daily Post. If the duties can be folded into the LAPD more cost-effectively, this should be made clear. Separately, the idea of scope creep worries me. One, do the deputies have the same level of police training as our PD and two, do we need two police agencies in one jurisdiction? We don't have separate county vs city jurisdictions such as is the case in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

The "Constitutional Sheriff" and related rhetoric is polarizing the discussion. Certainly the difference in the office of police chief vs. sheriff is clear--one is appointed by the county and one is directly elected by the public. The recent lawsuit fiasco where a police chief was given the bum's rush by the County Administration for still to be fully disclosed reasons still worries me. But separately, if the Sheriff office's current brand of politics is found distasteful by the community, the remedy is to vote out the incumbents, not eliminate the office. If the community agrees with the philosophy put forth in letters such as one written by Mr. Horne, we should re-elect the incumbent. I find it interesting that we are told we should be supporting an ideology that is wary of Big Government when if not for Big Government and the military-industrial complex, there would be little up here on the hill but a few ranchers, a small boy's school, and some cattle.But whatever...that's a decision to be made at the ballot box, not in Tirades to the Editor.

At any rate, it really sounds like we should have a pair of referendums on our hands. One for the office, and one for the office holder. May we live in interesting times.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Charter Amendment To Require That a Councilor Do Your Laundry


 Insofar as we may already have one Charter Amendment on the ballot this year, i.e., to abolish the office of elected sheriff of Los Alamos County,  I will suggest a second one after a chat with a counter staffer at one of our few remaining gas stations in Los Alamos: County Council will henceforth be responsible for ensuring laundry can be done frugally on The Hill.

Buying some groceries on the station located on what used to be "Conoco Hill", I mentioned to the service staff member that it was nice to have at least one of the previous long time gas station in town left standing. The person grumbled that it was unfortunate that gas stations were falling like dominoes to the Krogerville onslaught, and to boot, there is no longer a self-service laundromat in town. As a renter, that staffer now has fewer options.

To a Council that is advocating that we broaden our economic base and encourage tourism, I will reiterate that tourist industry jobs don't pay the lavish wages that our major employer pays. Tourist industry workers may be renting and may not have the laundry facilities many of us take for granted. For a tourist industry worker to add the price of having a laundry service clean their clothes would be more expensive. Driving to Pojoaque or Espanola to do laundry means a round trip of almost forty miles. At General Service Administration reimbursement rates of 54 cents a mile, that means adding 20 bucks to the cost of doing laundry.

Rather than cause such a hardship, I suggest a charter amendment: during such times that Los Alamos does not have a full self-service laundromat, the seven County Councillors will take in all laundry for those residents who do not have access to a washer/dryer. Council members will turn it around in a maximum of 48 hours. Simple enough. Perhaps instead of a Sheriff's Dept., we can delegate and have a County Laundry Department.

 A community government that wishes to expand our economy to include more lower wage jobs has a responsibility to know what social issues such decisions will entail. I am sure there are others (health insurance, living wage, transportation, housing costs, etc) far more serious than washing hotel industry uniforms, but this example provides a good opportunity for Council to step up to the plate and proudly hit one over the fence.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Letter To The Editor: Lacking An Outside Audit ... Doubt About County Personnel Management Remains

I am disappointed that Council voted 4-2 against commissioning an independent audit of the County's personnel policies. This follows some high profile, successful lawsuits against the county and the loss of former acting Police Chief Randy Foster, who was fired, as I understand, due to his handling of a potentially catastrophic personnel situation. I counted Randy as a friend as well as a Chief, so like Councilor James Chrobocinski, I am somewhat conflicted. That said, I think this was the wrong decision.

County spokespeople can attempt to assuage our concerns about county management with lawyer-vetted argle bargle, to wit, a lawsuit payout does not equal admitted culpability. The public is not so naive; the numbers in these payouts speak for themselves. So too, does public confidence in County governance wane when high profile people in sensitive positions, such as the police chief, leave under a cloud of the county's own making, leading us to wonder whether the county is in good hands.

Admittedly, not all personnel actions can be made public and there is much we don't know. As a former member of a union board of directors (University of Hawaii Professional Assembly), I realize that you cannot sky-write all personnel actions. Thus, an  independent audit that preserved confidentiality when appropriate would have been a suitable substitute to both evaluate our personnel policies and let the public know that we are striving to make county governance as good as it could be. That 4-2 vote ensures neither will be obvious.

The votes of Councilors Girrens, Reiss, Izraelevitz and Henderson disappoint. I hope they write letters to this paper explaining their vote. Or, perhaps, raise this issue again with a less opaque outcome.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Father Daniel J. Berrigan, RIP

 Father Dan Berrigan one of the two Berrigan brothers (Phillip was the other) who stridently opposed the Vietnam War, died a few days ago. Writeups in the NY Times and on NPR.

Somewhat in honoring their efforts at stopping what was an extremely misguided war.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It May Be a Spiffy Bomber to Us, But It Was Hell on the Marshallese

Sent to the Albuquerque Journal.


 In the Sunday Journal, Charles Brundt tells us about the need to raise funds to repaint a B-52B bomber that will be exhibited at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Brundt elaborates on the history of this aircraft, including that it was heavily involved in "...Operation Redwing Cherokee, a series of 17 nuclear test detonations from May 4 through July 21, 1956, at the Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Pacific." Indeed, the U.S. conducted some 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands.

For whatever security this testing may or may not have provided Americans, its legacy continues to haunt the Marshall Islanders, where many areas have been too contaminated for habitation and where many people were directly subject to high levels of fallout and long term radioactive contamination. Imagine if New Mexico, rather than having experienced one small test of a nuclear device at Trinity Site, was used as a target for dozens of very large thermonuclear weapons.

Perhaps in addition to raising funds for re-painting that B-52, we should not be whitewashing the effects our testing program had on its unwilling participants living on those Pacific Islands. How much paint does it take to undo the equivalent of a nuclear war on someone's island home?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

More Gun Laws Don't Make You Safer

That is, when you ignore everything else...

Yet another article in the New Mexican about Albuquerque residents shooting each other. Albuquerque has about twice the violent crime rate as the U.S. while New Mexico the 2nd most violent by state. Like Avis, we try #1, but unlike Avis, to be at the top of every wrong list. Note: The Journal based its rankings on FBI data.

Just for laughs I thought I would look up the five states that the Albuquerque Journal article says are the five least violent states based on FBI data and compare these to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rankings as states with tough gun laws. Here it is, in order of the safest state, Vermont, followed by the four runners up, and their Law Center gun law rankings in parentheses. Note--a failing grade means the Law Center thinks there are not enough gun laws. Vermont (F), Maine (F), Virginia (D), Wyoming (F) and Kentucky (F). New Mexico and Alaska, the most violent states, likewise have grades of F.  Note that the FBI rankings only include violent crime. In the Politifact link below, the metric includes accidents and suicides as well as crime. The politifact article is a good read, as it discusses the issue in depth and interviews some scholars on the subject.

Safety and harm reduction is not all about passing strict gun laws. While the Law Center highlights violent states that have "weak" gun laws, it is mute about safe states with few gun laws.  Lax laws regulating gun sales may grease the wheels of gun trafficking into violent places like Chicago and D.C.. We need to bite the bullet and solve that problem with policies aimed at deterring trafficking and promoting crime control (and state level gun controls focused on crime) rather than pushing laws aimed at gun ownership in general. The lack of strict gun laws doesn't seem to pose a danger in itself, at least for the residents of those safe states. Unless you are suicidal or gun-accident prone.

"...Earlier this year, Santa Fe residents gathered to discuss ways to reduce gun violence in our community. The town hall meeting is another sign that activists are going to seek to reduce the harm caused by guns, no matter the political pushback. Even more encouraging, they are seeking to change the conversation so that fewer people die...."

In a departure from its usual "round up the usual suspects" editorial view, Saturday's New Mexican tells us we need to concentrate on suicide and harm reduction rather than gun control, in part, because two-thirds of American gunshot deaths are suicides. But that statistic ignores the elephant in the room. Talk with Charles Blow of the NY Times or Father Michael Pfleger at St. Sabina's Parish in south Chicago, aka Chi-Raq. Blow has told us that about three quarters of white Americans gun deaths are suicide while about four fifths of black gun deaths are homicides. I suspect that editorial would likewise leave Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden rolling his eyes, given the gun violence in his city. Black lives do matter, and non-Hispanic black deaths due to homicide are close to an order of magnitude higher than non-Hispanic whites.

Gun violence needs to be looked at in microcosm and solved in macrocosm, as both guns and policy flow seamlessly across borders.  National and state policies that influence income inequality, job exportation, chronic unemployment, drug addition treatment, taxation policy, and social services spending, to name a few, influence communities (and their crime and suicide rates) in different ways. Probably more profoundly than gun laws. But the quote above goes to the core of the problem: rather than demonizing each other across the Gun Control Divide, we need to ask each other's help and build alliances instead of grooming adversaries in order to reduce violence.

I agree with the New Mexican's Editorial Board that we ought to tackle the problems rather than concentrate entirely on the implements. Why are white (and other) folks putting a gun to their own heads? Why are urban blacks shooting each other in Chicago? Maybe its time to give people options other than bullets. As I've said before, our nation's "Maslow's Gun" approach to problem-solving is killing us.

As far as suicides? Unlike the New Mexican's editorial board, I am not sure what gun shop employees and shooting range officers can do to prevent suicides, but its worth a try. Guns are incredibly effective suicide mechanisms not because people go to a gun shop to buy a suicide gun, but because the gun is already readily available in the home, thus can be loaded and used immediately upon impulse. Drugs, gas, or driving to a bridge take time, and thus may result in reflection and "oh, never mind" or calling out for help. Once used on impulse, guns rarely fail at delivering. That is a good reason to lock them up and keep them away from suicide-prone teens or relatives. It may also be a good reason to NOT have guns around if you're not planning on being part of an active firearms culture (if you don't practice regularly, chances are, you will fail at using a gun in self-defense). Certainly our local gun shop owners can give us advice but so can priests, ministers, friends, and medical practitioners. On that last note, idiotic and misguided pro-gun based legal prohibitions on medical personnel discussing gun issues don't help and are an example of a "gun law" that doesn't make us safer. In terms of the bigger picture, we need to solve social problems in order to get people out of their suicidal or homicidal ruts, rather than focus on passing more gun control laws.

New Mexico Truth: Stunning Vistas and Child Poverty.

For starters, this Huffington story and the figure from it, below, are worth a look. I imagine this is not the only correlation between violent death and social ills that one can quickly find.