Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Conversion of Chris Christie on the Road to High Office

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.
A child’s saying

It is a message of redemption and forgiveness and it speaks volumes about Donald Trump and only a few pages less about Chris Christie. It speaks to a magnanimity that one would expect from aspirants to high office but not from lesser men. Their generosity of spirit and willingness to let bygones be bygones, serves as an example to us all. Lesser men would hold grudges, refuse to shake hands when encountering each other in public places, and would speak snidely of one another to mutual acquaintances. They would never be seen in a manly hug in front of an array of television cameras. And all of that offers proof, were proof needed, of what a magnificent team they would make, should the world’s highest offices be thrust upon them and they were to become the president and vice president of the United States. Although it is hard to determine which of them is more magnanimous, the winner is probably Donald Trump. That is because Governor Christie said more hateful things about Mr. Trump than Mr. Trump said about Governor Christie, so Mr. Trump had the most to forgive in accepting the governor’s endorsement and support. Consider just a few.

It was less than one month ago that Governor Christie heaped scorn on Mr. Trump’s ability to deal with crisis situations by saying that a crisis for Mr. Trump is “when his favorite restaurant on the Upper East Side isn’t open.” In response to a statement from a man at a campaign stop in Iowa that he couldn’t imagine Mr. Trump as president, the governor said: You’re feeling my pain right now,” suggesting he, too, found that difficult to imagine. Commenting on Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, the governor said Mr. Trump was “dead wrong.” On the same subject, when being interviewed on a radio show in December, the governor said of the Trump proposal that: “This is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they’re talking about.”

In discussing the hallucination Mr. Trump had when he thought he was watching thousands of Muslims in Jersey City, New Jersey, cheering as they watched the destruction of the World Trade Center, the governor said: “It didn’t happen, and the fact is, people can say anything, but the facts are the facts and it didn’t happen in New Jersey that day and it hasn’t happened since.” Speaking on Fox news in August, the governor said of Mr. Trump, “I just don’t think that he’s suited to be president of the United States. I don’t think his temperament is suited for that and I don’t think his experience is.” Commenting on Mr. Trump’s statement that he could “shoot somebody” on the streets of New York without losing his loyal supporters” the governor said that: “If he really does think he can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still keep voters, I think that’s a little bit too much for most voters in the United States.” In making the last comment, the governor was absolutely right. It’s just that Governor Christie is not most voters. He’s an ambitious governor turned sycophant. He’s bound to enjoy his new found status. It will be a good learning experience for him since he is more accustomed to being adored than adoring.

Governor Christie’s decision to fawn over Mr. Trump required him to overlook far fewer insults tossed at him by Mr. Trump than Mr. Trump had to overlook in deciding to accept the adoration of the Christie. Mr. Trump made a big deal out of the George Washington Bridge scandal saying (albeit without presenting facts, a minor impediment when Mr. Trump trumpets about the activities of others) “he knew about it.” He then said that Mr. Christie could not win because of his past involvement with the bridge. In a tweet Mr.Trump asked how the governor was running the state when he was spending all his time campaigning in New Hampshire.

Mr. Trump was delighted to have Mr. Christie go from harsh critic to lavish endorser. It took away a bit of attention from the fact that Mr. Trump couldn’t remember who David Duke was. And here follows a bit of irrelevant trivia should Mr. Trump need more information about David Duke. David Duke was not only the National Grand Wizard of Knights of Ku Klux Klan and the founder of the National Association for Advancement of White People. Like Donald Trump, he, too, aspired to high political office. In 1999 he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives to succeed Louisiana’s Bob Livingston, who had been slated to become the Speaker of the House but, instead, resigned from Congress when his extra marital affairs became public. As a result, Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House and was the longest serving speaker of the House in history, serving from 1999 to 2007 when he retired from Congress. In 2015 Mr. Hastert pled guilty to one federal felony count related to hush money that he allegedly paid to keep its recipient from disclosing sexual misconduct engaged in by Mr. Hastert when teaching high school prior to entering Congress.

So much for trivia and morality. David Duke was not elected to the office he coveted. One can only hope that now that Mr. Trump knows who Mr. Duke is, he will follow in his footsteps.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Good Old American Know-How

He had grown up in a country run by politicians who sent the pilots to man the bombers to kill the babies to make the world safer for children to grow up in.
—Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

A number of readers have written inquiring where cluster bombs can be conveniently purchased. At first blush one might think that the question is being asked by readers who are tired of the limited ability of the AK 47 to inflict harm on a lot of people in a short amount of time, that weapon being a favorite of those who do mass murders. The fact is that few of my readers are of that sort and so their inquiries are prompted by intellectual curiosity alone. It is a reasonable question since cluster bombs are once again in the news and some of my readers thought that cluster bombs had been banned and, that being the case, wondered why anyone would continue to make them and, to whom they would sell them. Those are both good questions and I am happy to be able to answer both of them. First, a word of explanation about cluster bombs is probably in order.

Cluster bombs are described as anti-personnel and anti-armor weapons. They were used to tragic effect in Vietnam where they not only indiscriminately killed those within their purview, but in many cases failed to explode and were left lying in the countryside to later explode killing children and others who came into contact with them. According to one report, in Laos where they were also used, 80 million bombs failed to detonate and, long after the conflict there ended, have been responsible for countless injuries among those who encountered them. Because they are both lethal and unpredictable, 109 states signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions that was adopted in 2008. It prohibits the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs. Although a treaty banning cluster bombs sounds like a great idea, only 109 states initially signed it. As of this writing there are 118 signatories. Among the more prominent states that have refused to sign, for reasons best understood by them, are Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States. Although the United States has not signed the treaty, it has proved sensitive to the tendency of the cluster bomb as a device to underperform. Many cluster bombs during the Vietnam war proved to have a failure rate of more than 1% and were used in areas where there were large civilian populations. Congress became concerned about this and, as a result, under the 2009 Omnibus Budget Bill, only cluster bombs that have a failure rate of less than 1% can be exported and they can only be used against “clearly defined military targets.” A country that buys cluster bombs from the United States has to sign a statement stating that they will not be used “where civilians are known to be present.” Notwithstanding these reassuring restrictions, cluster bombs acquired from the United States have been used by Saudi Arabia in its war with Yemen and, according to a lengthy and detailed report by Human Rights Watch (HRW): “Saudi Arabia is using them notwithstanding evidence of civilian casualties.” According to Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch(HRW): “Recently transferred US-manufactured cluster munitions are being used in civilian areas contrary to US export requirements and also appear to be failing to meet the reliability standards required for US export of the weapons.” By now, a reader (and perhaps a prospective buyer of a cluster bomb or two) probably wants to know who is supplying the cluster bombs that fail to meet the standards set forth in the omnibus bill so the reader can shop elsewhere. The answer is Textron Systems Corporation doing business as “Textron Defense Systems”, of Wilmington, Massachusetts.

Textron’s website indicates that the cluster bombs (more formally known as SFW CBU-105 DF/ P31) made by it, exceed “stringent U.S. Department of Defense policy on multiple warhead systems by regulating unexploded ordnance (UXO) to less than 1 percent. SFW [sensor fuzed weapon] has demonstrated greater than 99.6 percent reliability with U.S. Government verified performance in combat operations and during more than 600 operational tests. In addition, SFW’s redundant self-destruct features and self-neutralization mode ensure that battery power dissipates minutes after a smart Skeet is released, rendering it safe.” In its Valentine Day’s posting, however, HRW cites numerous examples of cluster bombs manufactured by Textron that failed to explode. Whether the number of devices that failed to explode in Yemen are more or less than 1% of the cluster bombs used on that country is impossible to know. Whether HRW’s report of civilian deaths is correct is also impossible for someone like this writer to know. And for obvious reasons, Textron cannot be held responsible for whether Saudi Arabia is careful not to use the bombs where civilians will be killed or injured. If HRW’s facts are correct, and there are civilian victims, the fault lies with Saudi Arabia and not Textron. Saudi Arabia’s failure to honor its obligations is not Textron’s responsibility. As noted song writer and satirist Tom Lehrer wrote many years ago: “’Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down. That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.” Nor is what Saudi Arabia does with the cluster bombs in Textron’s department. Of course it could quit making them.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Silence is Golden

Silence in times of suffering is the best.
John Dryden

At long last there is gun related news that does not implicate the second amendment. The news involves a device related to guns that is enjoying a spike in sales. It is especially good news because although it is related to guns, the spike in sales of this particular product was not related, as gun related sales usually are, to acts of gun violence. The spike in sales has to do with a federal regulation that is to take effect July 1, 2016, and the device that is enjoying a spike in sales is a silencer. This news was brought to us courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and was especially surprising since many non-gun owners did not know that the purchase and sale of silencers was a big deal and certainly had no idea it was a big seller among the gun-toting crowd in the United States. According to the WSJ reporter, however, we were ill informed. There are, we have been informed, almost 800,000 silencers owned by gun owners in the United States.

This news probably comes as as much of a surprise to many of my readers as it did to me. It had never occurred to me that silencers were used except in gangster movies where the mobster, accompanied by one or two side-kicks, enters the restaurant, approaches a table where a rival is quietly seated enjoying a spaghetti dinner, exchanges a few words with the rival, takes aim, fires (the gun emitting a an almost inaudible pop) the target slumps over, face in the spaghetti, and the mobster and colleagues quietly turn and leave the restaurant. (Other people seated in the restaurant continue eating, unaware, thanks to the silencer, that anything untoward has happened.) The belief that only mobsters use silencers, we have now learned, is wrong. They are everywhere gun owners are and accompany their owners as the owners walk around looking for opportunities to practice self-defense in a quiet way.

The spike in silencer sales, as observed above, is attributable to a regulation that is to take effect on July 1, 2016. The National Firearms Act of 1934 imposed a requirement on would-be silencer purchasers that a local law enforcement agent approve the purchaser of a silencer before the sale could be completed. (This requirement may have been imposed because the purchasers of silencers wanted to go about their business of murder quietly so as not to disturb those in the vicinity of the violence, and law enforcement was interested in knowing who was buying the devices.) The law further provided that an individual owner of a silencer could not permit anyone else to use the silencer. It was purchaser specific, as it were. To avoid complying with this apparently burdensome requirement, silencer purchasers created trusts that could buy silencers without getting the approval of law enforcement. In addition, silencer trusts could share their assets with all the other members of their trusts. . A large group of mobsters could simply buy one silencer and let it be used by anyone in the mob who was assigned the task of rubbing out, as the vernacular had it, someone in an opposing mob.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, 111,599 trusts of the sort just described were created in 2014. Under the new regulation the burden on these trusts will be greater. Every member of a trust will have to undergo a background check and submit fingerprints and photos before the trust will be permitted to acquire a silencer. And it is in an eagerness to avoid these new requirements that silencer sales have spiked.

Luis Rose owns Sterling Arsenal in Sterling, VA. He told the WSJ reporter that in January 2016 he sold 6 times the number of silencers he would normally sell in a month in January. (Silencers sell for between $800 and $1,200.) He further said that only three of the approximately 2,000 silencers he sold in 2015 were bought by individuals rather than trusts. Given those statistics, it is easy to see why there is practically a stampede to the sellers of silencers to get the product before it becomes more difficult to obtain.

A refreshing aspect to the concerns of those rushing to buy silencers is that no one has suggested that there is a second amendment right to buy and own a silencer. Would-be purchasers of silencers explain, when asked, that they simply want to protect themselves from hearing loss and there should not be a federal regulation that makes that more difficult. Their argument proves one thing, if nothing else. Compared with the gangsters of the ‘30s, the buyers of silencers today are wimps. It’s hard to imagine Al Capone explaining to the seller of a silencer that he only needed it to protect against hearing loss.