“Fast and Furious” – The Result of Weak Gun Laws

DRAFT…clear out some repetition, including sourcing

Let’s talk about assertion that “Fast and Furious” is an Obama Administration program. Well, that’s accurate as far as it goes, but to leave out that it succeeded a Bush-Cheney era program known as Operation Wide Receiver is a bit disingenuous.

“Fast and Furious” indeed ran from 2009 to 2011. However it was the successor to Operation “Wide Receiver” that ran from 2006 to 2007, and then again in 2007  during, you know, during the Bush-Cheney Administration.   Call the 2006-2007  effort “Phase I” and the followup effort in 2007 as “Phase II”.

Phase II involved 200 guns. It didn’t work.  Although the ATF did its job, the Mexican government wasn’t able to track the smuggled weapons.

What’s the reasoning behind all this?  I mean, it sounds crazy for the US government to allow guns to be smuggled into Mexico…right?

In 2006,  before it was essentially unfunded by the GOP, the ATF was and is rightly concerned with sales of AR-15s and similar weapons to suspicious characters, and because of the GOP-led weakening of gun laws, could and can do very little about it. I mean, heck, the sale of semi-automatic, military grade assault rifles is guaranteed in the Second Amendment! For what it’s worth, my long passed way dad, who for thirty years was a small arms production specialist, and who worked with the US Army on the M16 rifle during the Vietnam War, wouldn’t agree at all that such weapons belong in civilian hands – even if they are set permanently to semiautomatic. I know- this guy, one of the few experts on the production of such weapons in the Northeast, made it quite clear to me what he thought of civilians having such military-grade equipment. But he lived in saner times – the 1970s- where keeping an assault rifle in one’s home would be…bizarre. And, please, don’t even try to tell me that assault rifles are good hunting weapons.  Hardly.

Anyways, the ATF’s frustration with such weak gun laws and the resultant flood of powerful weapons making their way down to Mexico was the catalyst for consideration of over-the-border “gunwalking” programs. The ATF reasoned that if they couldn’t leverage gun laws, then they could perhaps trace straw purchases of planted weapons to the drug cartels. This was the brainchild of a Bush-Cheney Administration. A “test” program, if you will.

Well, it sorta worked.   Operation Wide Receiver ultimately resulted with nine people getting arrested.

Success brings its own momentum and with it came about what can be called “Phase III”.   It was called “Fast and Furious” and was managed by William Newell, originally a Bush-Cheney Administration ATF agent who played a major role in Operation Wide Receiver.  This is the part of the program that occurred under the Obama Administration.

YES, a border patrol agent, Brian Terry, was shot and killed during a battle with five suspected illegal immigrants. It wasn’t a fair fight: The border agents had beanbag guns, and the suspects had some pretty powerful weapons smuggled in from the USA to Mexico (thank you weak gun laws!). Two of those weapons were found to be AK-lookalike weapons that came from the Fast and Furious program. The bullet that killed Terry was too badly damaged to be traced to those weapons.

In summary:

1. The Bush-Cheney Administration implemented the first two phases of the gunwalking program, known as Operation Wide Receiver. The first phase had limited success, the second phase was unsuccessful.

2. The Obama-Biden Administration, on arresting and bringing to justice suspects from Operation Wide Receiver (the part that I called “Phase I”), implemented Fast and Furious under an ATF agent who originally served under the Bush-Cheney Administration.

3. A border agent was murdered by suspected illegal immigrants, possibly by Fast and Furious weapons. However, as the bullet that murdered him was too badly damaged for trace analysis, whether or not a Fast and Furious artifact killed the border agent will remain forever unknown.

Here’s a 2007 dated document from the Bush-Cheney Administration where gunwalking operations under Operation Wide Receiver were openly discussed. Proof, if you will, of the program starting during the Bush-Cheney Admin: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/documents/2011/10/atf-emails-discuss-bush-era-gun-walking-program.php?page=1

So…please don’t come to me and tell me that that the was an Obama-Biden only program. Hardly. It was started and was just as much a Bush-Cheney program. If McCain (and angels and ministers of grace defend us) Palin were elected, the program would likely have continued.

Too, the issue -the real issue- is the huge numbers of guns (2,000 guns a day!) smuggled into Mexico thanks to severely weakened gun laws in the  USA.  The GOP-led House has, over and again, denied the Obama Administration’s attempts to strengthen these laws so as to begin to manage the flood of powerful American weapons smuggled into Mexico.  This abdication of responsibility by the GOP is reprehensible, all while they try to gain politically with a “Fast and Furious” brouhaha.

Sources:

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/the-guns-that-got-away-11172011.html

http://azstarnet.com/news/blogs/senor-reporter/article_01700a28-f502-11e0-989c-001cc4c002e0.html

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/06/fast-and-furious-investigation-going-sideways-gop

http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/06/27/fast-and-furious-truth/?iid=SF_F_MPM

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An “Invented” People?

I posted the below response to Paul Moses’ excellent December 10, 2011 article in Commonweal, “Newt, Gingrich, John Paul II and the Palestinians”. I noticed a flurry of negative postings to Moses and thought it appropriate to post the below response (slightly edited here), more or less defending his article:

All peoples are “invented” at one time or another. For goodness sake, Americans became an “invented” people in 1776. Yes, Americans, to use Newt’s very poor word choice, essentially “invented” themselves. You can argue that God “invented’ Israel by His covenant with Abraham. Or that a Frankish tribe eventually “invented” modern France. Go ahead and try to tell the French that they’re an “invented” people. Their disdain for such a label would be very understandable,  just as the Palestinian reaction is quite understandable.

Newt, Newt, Newt.

Gingrich used a provocative term and did so evidently on purpose.   Compare his method to Tom Friedman’s.  With care and respect, Friedman described how he came to the conclusion that the Palestinians are now a sovereign people, citing the first Intifada as the moment when the Palestinians became a separate people beyond all dispute.

Compare, too how John Paul II carefully recognized the Palestinians as a sovereign people with a right to a homeland, all the while recognizing Israel’s right to exist in safety as a sovereign nation.

Then note how Gingrich went about it. How divisive and belittling his word choice was. Do people on the right hand side of the political aisle really want to nominate someone for President who so purposely alienates others? Considering Gingrich’s word choice, he used the phrase to draw attention to himself (his usual M.O.) more than anything else. A form of selfishness, if you will.

Rather, behold what we are witnessing here and now: If the Palestinians weren’t a people a century ago, they surely are now. We are witnessing, perhaps, the birth of a people. Let’s not let alienating word choices smear such a rare event.

I am all for Israel’s existence as a nation and as a people.  I recognize it with reverence and honor.   However, recognizing one people (the Israelis) does not mean belittling another (the Palestinians).  It’s in Israel’s long term interest to come to some level of accommodation and respect with the Palestinian people.  To not do so can only harm Israel.  Similarly, it’s in the Palestinians’ long term interest to come to some level of accommodation with Israel.  The talk by extremists on the one side to kick all of the Palestinians out of the area is as shrill and as eerily similar as the shouts of the extremists who wish to push Israel into the sea.  Both views are unrealistic.  Both views are ultimately murderous, and both views obviously make things worse.  Perhaps it’s the extremists on both sides who should be sent somewhere far away where social justice is an alien concept.  Like Mars.

Reference:  New Gingrich, John Paul II and the Palestinians

Yet another rambling, undisciplined poem by me…

Yet another poorly written pseudo-poem by me.  The word, “poem” is waaay too self-complimentary.  Call it a ramble with a few rhyming words.   A troll called people like me “sheep”, so I wrote this in reply.  Again, I find it…relaxing…to respond to trolls with rhyme.  It’s about one of the gazillion GOP presidential debates for the 2012 election…

In Des Moines they “debated”, self proclaimed warriors all,
To beg, borrow, steal, for the chance to battle their proclaimed Great Satan next fall,

Paul wants only churches to grant the right to marry,
While Bachmann, well, she’s downright scary.

Gingrich says, nothing, really, but in his special long winded way,
While Perry says to get out of this mess, all we have to do is pray, pray, pray 

(and execute people).

But things get close…sort…of 
When Santorum cries over people Googling him and witheld love

Not to be beat, Herman Cain, as quick as a dancer,
Then wept and wept about his colon cancer.

With 14 MILLION unemployed 
And the American working class almost destroyed,

The Dems looked on in dismay…
Are THESE the so-proclaimed “toughs” with whom we must play?

First Boehner cries often and like the cowardly lion
Then McConnell only grants tears for 18 minutes in fear…
…of losing his favorite aide who knows the tricks of the trade…

These crybabies are the ones to call us sheep?
When all these creeps do is weep, weep, weep?

Are We More or Less a Militarized Society?

Reading the attached link reminded me of something I wondered about off and on again over the last few years: Are we more or less a militarized society today than, say, 50 years ago?

On the one hand, the US Navy has greater firepower than the next 13 navies combined. We have…last I checked…something like 716 military bases in 38 countries, with troops stationed in 148 nations. The percent of GDP dedicated to DoD, Homeland Security, etc. has increased dramatically since 9/11. When we combine the Pentagon budget, the cost of wars, intelligence agencies, contractor costs, military foreign aid, the cost of building and maintaining hardened embassies, the total comes to $1 trillion. A year. Every year.  (Source- Pat Buchanan here).

Fifty or so years ago, as a percent of the national GDP, our defense budget was much larger than it is now.  Go ahead and take a look here.  There was a national draft.  However, it seems, looking through a half-century or so lens, that we were a much less militarized a culture.

It’s an intangible that I’m going to investigate as time goes by.

US Defense Spending as a Percent of GDP 1950 - 2015

Related link:  UC Davis Pepper-Spray Incident Reveals Weakness Up Top

Home Ownership: Those who are sinking and those who aren’t

We purchased our first home in 1993. We sold it nine years later and purchased the house we’re in now. We were lucky (thank goodness) to have purchased-sold-purchased at the right times. We were also cautious about what we believed we could afford.

All during these times, I was amazed at the houses other people where purchasing.  Huge houses- “McMansions”, if you will.  Houses in many cases that were way beyond the ability for people to afford.

And now that the bubble has popped, now that the housing market has crashed, many people are of a mindset of, “Well, that’s the bed they made.  Let them sleep in it.”

That’s an overly simple and I daresay selfish way to view it.  It ignores ignores the collateral damage of what happened.  It’s a small step away from a “Let’s punish them!” mentality.

Always a heartbreak

The issue isn’t only a matter of personal responsibility. Neither is it just an issue of business ethics where loan officers were transformed, thanks to the repeal of many Glass-Steagall provisions, into the mindset of the lowliest caricature of a car salesman, pushing loans on people who did or didn’t don’t know better.

The problem is, when such things happen, we are *all* damaged. When banks run amok, and people act irresponsibly, their actions aren’t confined to their circles.   The ruin spreads to people who haven’t done anything inappropriate. It spreads to the children of those families who purchased homes much too big for them. It spreads to a general collapse in land values that affect jobs and the economy as a whole. People who were cautious and frugal get swept up in the tidal wave of the collapse.

It’s hard to believe for some, but the “9/11” crises that seared and traumatized the Great Depression generation was the banking collapse caused by rampant market speculation. Speculators didn’t just hurt themselves in those days, they damaged everybody. People don’t know it as much today, but when FDR uttered his famous, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” line, people weren’t listening that much to him. Rather, they were anxiously watching to see what was happening with the banking collapse- to their money. This was a time when Hoover placed machine gun emplacements on top of federal buildings -and ringed some of them in barbed wire!- for fear of the populace rushing the capital in their desperation.

We can say, today, of people who irresponsibly went way over the heads in real estate, and with perhaps a bit of self-satisfaction, “Screw’em. They got themselves into this mess. Let them wait until it fixes itself.”  The emotions that bring on those statements may be valid.   But is it true for the children who lose their homes? Is it true for the innocents who were swept up in this, unfairly losing their homes, too, or losing their livelihoods?

The problem with confining oneself to that attitude is that it throws the baby out with the bathwater. It forces the innocents who were caught in this wave (to mix metaphors) to endure the deprivations of the mess. It ignores that we live in communities that seek to raise and protect all of us.  As members of  our community, we *must* act to protect the innocents, if we can. Otherwise, we are turning our backs on what it means to be human.

The present housing crises is the worst ever. Worse, even, than the housing crises of the Great Depression.

FDR faced not identical, but not dissimilar issues with a real estate collapse.   He and others responded with healing, not punishment.  During the Great Depression, people were losing their homes in droves. Home ownership was down to about 40% of the population (I believe it’s hovered around 60% in recent decades). Back then, lenders could call in the full amounts of their loans arbitrarily- and because of the economy and their shortage of cash, they did! Lenders could suddenly up their rates arbitrarily- and they did!   Banks could suddenly demand half the value of the home in cash, or they’ll foreclose- and they did!  Like I said, the banking collapse was that generation’s 9/11.  It’s not remembered as much because a dozen or so years later Peal Harbor came along, blocking out the memory of the earlier national trauma.

The first step that balanced such rampant issues was 1932’s Glass-Steagall Act. Among other things, it created a “wall of separation” between investment banking and commercial, deposit-taking banks. Depositors’ monies were insulated from rampant speculation. It kept banks from getting too complex, from making them “too big to fail”, from making investments/speculations and deposited monies from being too intermixed and tangled.  And it worked.  It worked, that is, until Phil Gramm pushed through the repeal of these provisions in 1999.

FDR’s second step was the establishment of the Federal Housing Authority in 1934. No more could lenders arbitrarily and immediately call in the balance of their loans.  For the first time, really, people could transact 30 year fixed mortgages, which in many cases could be more expensive than ARMS, but lent a huge stability to the market.   The FHA operated solely on self-generated income via mandatory mortgage insurance- not a penny of taxpayer monies were spent on this agency.   The last 30 year mortgage offered to people who were part of the original FHA program was paid off in the mid 1960s. The result: A huge pillar supporting middle class wealth via land ownership.

That pillar that so much of our common wealth depends on is cracking thanks to the largest bust of a real estate bubble in history. Shall we simply say, “Well they brought it on themselves!”, while their damage continues to spread to innocents?      Shall we sacrifice our future so that we can stand up with stiff necks, cross our arms, hold up our heads, and say to those whose profligacy wounded us all, “See, I told you so!”

If that’s what you think, that to punish the foolish we must ignore the harm to the innocent, nonexistent readers who never read my invisible blog, I suggest you read God’s conversation with Lot at Genesis 18: 22-33.