The self-government revolution that’s happening under the radar in Syria

Frederic C. Hof writes: With Iran circling the wagons around an ever-shrinking Syrian statelet nominally headed by Bashar al-Assad, a key question is coming into sharp focus: Who might ultimately replace the ruling clan if Tehran cannot keep its clients afloat? The answer is both complex and hopeful: Self-government at local levels is taking root in Syria and forms the basis for what should come next.

One of the few uplifting experiences to be had in any Syrian context these days is to meet with young Syrian activists, as I recently did in Gaziantep, Turkey. A young lawyer said something striking: “This is not just a revolution against Bashar al-Assad. It is a revolution for self-government. Replacing Bashar with someone else issuing decrees from Damascus — even someone much better than Bashar — is not acceptable.”

From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, unarmed activists have formed, under the worst security conditions imaginable, local councils to provide governmental services to their neighbors. This is revolutionary. For 40 years the Assad family had concentrated in its own hands, in Damascus, the direct governing of all Syrians. Officials assigned to Syria’s outback were, at best, order-taking clerks. At worst they were active members of a clan-dominated police state and terror network. Unless Iran helps its client re-subjugate Syria, the days of Damascus-dominated governance are done.

There are today hundreds of local councils throughout non-Assad parts of Syria. Some operate clandestinely in areas overrun by the so-called Islamic State. Some operate in areas where the Assad regime — with Iran’s full support — unloads helicopter-borne “barrel bombs” onto schools, hospitals and mosques. Some operate in neighborhoods subjected to Iranian-facilitated starvation sieges. These local councils are supported by a vast network of civil society organizations — the kinds of voluntary professional associations that undergird Western democracies. All of this is new to Syria. It is the essence of the Syrian Revolution. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey accused of bombing Kurdish fighters in Syria

The Associated Press reports: Turkish troops have shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters who have been battling the Islamic State group with the aid of U.S.-led airstrikes, Syria’s main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Monday.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, said the Sunday night shelling on the border village of Til Findire targeted one of their vehicles. It said Til Findire is east of the border town of Kobani, where the Kurds handed a major defeat to the Islamic State group earlier this year.

In cross-border strikes since Friday, Turkey has targeted both Kurdish fighters as well as the IS group, stepping up its involvement in Syria’s increasingly complex civil war. The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group, but Turkey fears they could revive an insurgency against Ankara in pursuit of an independent state.

On Monday the YPG and Syrian rebels captured the town of Sareen in northern Syria, which had been held by the Islamic State group, according to The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center in Syria, two activist groups that track the civil war. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria risk coming under attack from Turkey if they don’t align themselves with Turkish interests in the country.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told newspaper editors over the weekend that the Syrian Kurd PYD group battling Islamic State must side with “moderate rebels” supported by Turkey against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We want moderate rebels to replace” Islamic State fighters as they’re pushed back from Turkey’s border, Davutoglu said. The PYD will be treated “in the same way” as Islamic State “if they engage in activities that disturb us,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-Turkey deal aims to create de facto ‘safe zone’ in northwest Syria

The Washington Post reports: Turkey and the United States have agreed on the outlines of a de facto “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border under the terms of a deal that is expected to significantly increase the scope and pace of the U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State in northern Syria, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

The agreement includes a plan to drive the Islamic State out of a 68-mile-long area west of the Euphrates River and reaching into the province of Aleppo that would then come under the control of the Syrian opposition. If fully implemented, it would also bring American planes in regular, close proximity to bases, aircraft and air defenses operated by the Syrian government, and directly benefit opposition rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Operations in the targeted area would stop short of meeting long-standing Turkish demands for a full-scale, declared no-fly zone, but the area could eventually become a protected haven for some of the estimated 2­ million Syrian civilians who have fled to Turkey. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian Kurdish leader: Turkey aids ISIS

Rudaw reports: The Islamic State has multiple heads and bodies and the ones attacking the Kurds have Turkish origins, Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party co-head Salih Muslim has said in an interview with the London-based Al-Hayat Arabic newspaper published Saturday.

Muslim said that they cannot ascertain the involvement of the Turkish government, but there was a possibility certain groups that were influential in Turkey in the past and the present might be involved.

Regarding assistance from the Turkish government in allowing Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to cross Turkish territories and fight against ISIS in Kobani, Muslim argued that the Turkish gesture was due to pressure from the United States.

Muslim also talked about the relationship between the Kurds and the Syrian regime. “Ocalan knew that the Syrian regime was using the Kurds for its own agendas against Turkey and Iraq, but the relationship was useful for the Kurds,” he said referring to imprisoned Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.

“The People’s Protection Units (YPG) can become part of the Syrian army,” said Muslim, only if the army changes its ideologies and practices. “There is no going back to the past,” he said.

The 93rd and 17th Brigades of the Syrian army deliberately abandoned weapons to be seized by ISIS in Tedmur and other areas in Syria, and the same thing happened in the Iraqi city of Mosul, claimed Muslim. [Continue reading…]

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James Hansen warns of rapid sea level rise

Environment News Service reports: Leading climate scientist and activist James Hansen is warning that the 2 degree Celsius limit to Earth’s temperature rise agreed by world leaders is “highly dangerous.” His new research paper shows that sea levels are rising much more quickly that previously believed.

An adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, Dr. Hansen is lead author of a paper entitled, “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming is highly dangerous” just published in the journal “Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion.”

The paper is published ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit set for Paris in November and December. There world leaders are expected to agree on a universal, legally-binding agreement to limit the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

“Humanity is rapidly extracting and burning fossil fuels without full understanding of the consequences. Current assessments place emphasis on practical effects such as increasing extremes of heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, floods, and encroaching seas,” the authors write. [Continue reading…]

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Alaskan villages imperiled by global warming need resources to relocate

Victoria Herrmann writes: The Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average, making climate change’s effects there far more intense and rapid than any other ecosystem in the world. While nature photographs of polar bears and melting ice dominate media narratives, the top of the world is home to 4m people who face an uncertain future.

Coastal erosion, forest fires and storm surges are threatening the physical and economic safety of settlements across the Arctic Ocean shoreline. Further inland, thawing permafrost is compromising the stability of transportation, sanitation and public service infrastructure built upon once-sturdy foundations. In Alaska alone, 31 villages face imminent threat of destruction from erosion and flooding. Many of these villages have 10 to 20 years of livability before their streets, schools and homes become uninhabitable. At least 12 have decided to relocate – in part or entirely – to safer ground to avoid total collapse.

This week, the United States approaches the First Hundred Days mark of its leadership of the Arctic Council, a high-level governmental forum for the world’s eight Arctic nations to act on circumpolar challenges. Leadership gives the US a two-year opportunity to lead the international community in confronting climate change there. Though the US, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, has seen some successful polar initiatives implemented in the past few months, there is much more work to be done. [Continue reading…]

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Goodbye Wall Street, hello Silicon Valley

The Wall Street Journal reports: More top Wall Streeters are California dreaming.

A technology-fueled gold rush is drawing seasoned financial executives with the promise of sunshine, fresh managerial challenges and compensation that can top even the seven-figure paychecks common in the investment world.

Blackstone Group LP said Friday that its chief financial officer, Laurence Tosi, is leaving the private-equity firm to become finance chief at Airbnb Inc., the booming home-rental service. He is just the latest Wall Street executive to move west to take advantage of massive investor interest in fast-growing companies seeking to upend entire swaths of the economy.

Mr. Tosi, 47 years old, has made a good living by any standard since he joined Blackstone following its 2007 initial public offering. He earned about $15 million last year, according to filings, and $33.8 million over the past three years, not including dividends and some other perks, such as proceeds from investments made in the firm’s funds. [Continue reading…]

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‘Sea slaves’: The human misery that feeds pets and livestock

The New York Times reports: Lang Long’s ordeal began in the back of a truck. After watching his younger siblings go hungry because their family’s rice patch in Cambodia could not provide for everyone, he accepted a trafficker’s offer to travel across the Thai border for a construction job.

It was his chance to start over. But when he arrived, Mr. Long was kept for days by armed men in a room near the port at Samut Prakan, more than a dozen miles southeast of Bangkok. He was then herded with six other migrants up a gangway onto a shoddy wooden ship. It was the start of three brutal years in captivity at sea.

“I cried,” said Mr. Long, 30, recounting how he was resold twice between fishing boats. After repeated escape attempts, one captain shackled him by the neck whenever other boats neared. [Continue reading…]

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Is the Ugly German back? Flames of hate haunt a nation

Der Spiegel reports: It’s a Monday night in July and Samuel Osei is frightened to death. Two neo-Nazis have entered the concrete bloc apartment building where Osei is staying, on the edge of Greifswald, a city in eastern Germany. The two men are drunk and swearing. Osei, an asylum-seeker from Ghana, steps out on his balcony and tries to placate them. “I’m sorry,” he calls out. But the right-wing extremists only grow more aggressive. They begin shouting. One of the two takes off his shirt and Osei recognizes a swastika on his chest.

The men storm into the building and begin pounding on the door to Osei’s apartment. They then go down to the basement and remove the fuses, cutting off the power. Osei cowers in his room in the dark. He calls a friend who in turn alerts the police. The attackers have already left by the time officers.
Osei chokes up when he talks about that evening a week and a half ago. Traces of the attack are still visible — the door is dented and its peephole shattered. “These guys wanted to put an end to something,” he says.

Osei, who is 29, has been living in Germany for eight months. He’s taking German lessons and earns his money by helping other refugees move. Osei likes Greifswald, which is located on the Baltic coast — he especially likes the sea and the Old Town. He says most people in the city are friendly and helpful. At the same time, he’s struggling with the animosity he has experienced at the hands of racists. [Continue reading…]

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Eduardo Galeano: The previous sole superpower

Recently, Susan Bergholz, the devoted literary agent of the late Uruguayan writer and planetary great Eduardo Galeano, sent me this brief email: “A friend of Eduardo’s and mine called yesterday to tell me, ‘Now we know where Eduardo went: he became pope!’” Somehow, that thought raised my spirits immeasurably. I was about to turn 71 and feeling my age as the dog days of summer approached. After all, when I flip through my address book — and yes, I’m old enough to have a “dumb” one filled out with that ancient potion, ink — it often reads like a book of the dead. I miss friends and authors I worked with like Chalmers Johnson and Jonathan Schell whose ways of thinking helped me make sense of our world. Eduardo has now entered that realm. I was once his English-language book editor and couldn’t be more proud of it. He remains one of my heroes.

When I’m in such moods, TomDispatch offers me an advantage few have. I can resuscitate the dead — and so, with Pope Francis’s excoriating words about our deteriorating planet in mind, I thought I might bring back from the grave the “pope” of my life. History had a strange way of spilling its secrets to Eduardo Galeano, who died in April, and in his late-in-life masterpiece, Mirrors, a history of humanity in 366 episodes, he took us from our first myths to late last night. He could blend the distant past and yesterday (or even tomorrow) in a fashion that took your breath away. Here, for instance, is a passage he wrote early in Mirrors on the “origin of writing” that captures the essence of those first scratches on clay tablets and of the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

“When Iraq was not yet Iraq, it was the birthplace of the first written words.

The words look like bird tracks. Masterful hands drew them in clay with sharpened canes.

Fire annihilates and rescues, kills and gives life, as do the gods, as do we. Fire hardened the clay and preserved the words. Thanks to fire, the clay tablets still tell what they told thousands of years ago in that land of two rivers.

In our days, George W. Bush, perhaps believing that writing was invented in Texas, launched with joyful impunity a war to exterminate Iraq. There were thousands upon thousands of victims, and not all of them were flesh and blood. A great deal of memory was murdered too.

Living history in the form of numerous clay tablets were stolen or destroyed by bombs.

One of the tablets said:

We are dust and nothing
All that we do is no more than wind.”

If George W. Bush did a remarkable impersonation of the (whirl)wind across the Greater Middle East, with results that grow more horrific by the day, here is a set of passages from Mirrors on the planet’s previous superpower, a small island nation that caused its own kind of devastation. This little history of Great Britain from the Opium Wars to Darwin’s finches ends on a typically spectacular Galeano riff on the nature of humanity. My thanks go to his publisher, Nation Books, for allowing me to bring Eduardo alive again at TomDispatch. I hope his spirit continues to inhabit this planet for a long time to come. Tom Engelhardt

God’s masterpiece or the devil’s bad joke?
Barbarians and apes — from the Opium Wars to the Origin of the Species
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s history of humanity, Mirrors (Nation Books).]

Origin of Freedom of Oppression

Opium was outlawed in China.

British merchants smuggled it in from India. Their diligent efforts led to a surge in the number of Chinese dependent on the mother of heroin and morphine, who charmed them with false happiness and ruined their lives.

The smugglers were fed up with the hindrances they faced at the hands of Chinese authorities. Developing the market required free trade, and free trade demanded war.

[Read more…]

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How trees calm us down

Alex Hutchinson writes: In 1984, a researcher named Roger Ulrich noticed a curious pattern among patients who were recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban hospital in Pennsylvania. Those who had been given rooms overlooking a small stand of deciduous trees were being discharged almost a day sooner, on average, than those in otherwise identical rooms whose windows faced a wall. The results seemed at once obvious — of course a leafy tableau is more therapeutic than a drab brick wall — and puzzling. Whatever curative property the trees possessed, how were they casting it through a pane of glass?

That is the riddle that underlies a new study in the journal Scientific Reports by a team of researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia, led by the University of Chicago psychology professor Marc Berman. The study compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space, as determined from satellite imagery and a comprehensive list of all five hundred and thirty thousand trees planted on public land, and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. “To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars — or make people seven years younger,” Berman told me.

Are such numbers fanciful? The emerald ash borer, which has killed a hundred million trees across North America in recent years, offers a grim natural experiment. A county-by-county analysis of health records by the U.S. Forest Service, between 1990 and 2007, found that deaths related to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses rose in places where trees succumbed to the pest, contributing to more than twenty thousand additional deaths during the study period. The Toronto data shows a similar link between tree cover and cardio-metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For the people suffering from these conditions, an extra eleven trees per block corresponds to an income boost of twenty thousand dollars, or being almost one and a half years younger. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Michael Brook — ‘Hybrid’

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Turkey launches massive attack against ISIS’s most effective opponent, the PKK

In a feature article published on Friday under the provocative headline, “America’s Marxist Allies Against ISIS,” the Wall Street Journal reported:

The PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and its Syrian affiliate have emerged as Washington’s most effective battlefield partners against Islamic State, also known as ISIS, even though the U.S. and its allies have for decades listed the PKK as a terrorist group.

That partnership first emerged last summer when the U.S. launched an operation to save Yazidis besieged on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq — victims of ISIS ethnic cleansing and who were led to safety by YPG Kurdish fighters.

U.S. war planners have been coordinating with the Syrian affiliate — the People’s Defense Units, or YPG — on air and ground operations through a joint command center in northern Iraq. And in two new centers in Syria’s Kobani and Jazeera regions, YPG commanders are in direct contact with U.S. commanders, senior Syrian Kurdish officials said.

“There’s no reason to pretend anymore,” said a senior Kurdish official from Kobani. “We’re working together, and it’s working.”

The report also said:

U.S. defense officials said coordination with YPG units, including some inside Syria, has improved the ability of coalition aircraft to strike Islamic State positions and avoid civilian casualties. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter during a visit to the region this week said YPG forces in Syria are “extremely effective on the ground.”

While not all of the PKK affiliates are classified by the U.S. as terrorist organizations, the presence or absence of such a designation highlights the political nature of the State Department’s classification system.

The PKK says its affiliates — Syria’s YPG and groups called the PJAK in Iran and the HPG in Iraq — are separate but closely linked. PKK fighters and some analysts say they are one and the same.

As Turkish military forces remained spectators during the ISIS assault on Kobane last year, it was clear that the Turkish government likewise sees no meaningful distinction between between the PKK affiliates and views all of them as terrorists.

Perhaps this explains why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who now operates like a born-again neoconservative, has decided that Turkish participation in the fight against ISIS justifies launching hundreds of bombing strikes on the PKK. As Dick Cheney might have said, they’re all terrorists.


But as David Graeber points on, Turkey has now provided ISIS with the one major element in its arsenal that it previously lacked:

Brett McGurk, the deputy special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS, claims:


Really?

Turkey agrees to allow the U.S. to use its air bases at Incirlik and Diyarbakir for strikes against ISIS — a “game changer” a senior Obama administration official says — Turkey then starts bombing the PKK and the U.S. responds by confirming Turkey’s right to defend itself while affirming the PKK’s status as a terrorist organization.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

U.S. officials said the base deal shouldn’t affect U.S. air support to Kurdish fighters in Syria and may help increase collaboration with the YPG because jets and drones will be closer to the battlefield.

So if these fighters are shooting at ISIS in Syria, the U.S. may provide them with air support, but if they return to camps in Iraq and get bombed by the Turks, the Obama administration will raise no objections. Is that how it works?

An administration official suggested that it’s difficult for the U.S. to be clear about the affiliations of the fighters for whom it’s providing air support.

“These guys don’t exactly wear patches identifying what groups they’re fighting for,” the official said, “but they are fighting the right guys.”

In fact, patches showing YPG and YPJ affiliation can commonly be seen.

The affiliations that are hardest to decipher right now are those of the Americans.

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Kurds condemn Turkish air strikes inside Iraq

Al Jazeera reports: The leadership of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has condemned Turkish air strikes against positions of Kurdish fighters in its autonomous region, echoing the remarks of the leadership earlier.

Masoud Barzani, president of KRG, spoke to Ahmed Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, over telephone on Saturday and “expressed his displeasure with the dangerous level the situation has reached”, according to a KRG statement.

“He requested that the issue not be escalated to that level because peace is the only way to solve problems and years of negotiations are better than one hour of war,” the statement said. [Continue reading…]

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PKK and Ankara still trapped by decisions taken years ago

In an interview with Hürriyet Daily News, Cem Emrence says that decisions taken by both the Turkish state and the PKK years ago have exacerbated the conflict and limited the options of both sides, leading to long-term stalemate produced by “path dependence.”

The basic idea is that both actors – the government and the insurgency – insisted on the same policies throughout the conflict. That’s what we call path dependence. Once you make a choice in anything, as time goes by it becomes harder to reverse. This is what happened in the Kurdish conflict.

Specifically, we identified two sets of policies for both sides that sustained this path dependent relationship. On the government side, the state tried to contain the ethnic threat by creating special administrative regions while also recruiting local allies such as village guards and connecting to various religious orders. On the PKK side, one of the most important issues is what we can call the leadership cult. In the long run, the central position of Abdullah Öcalan in the PKK hampered its territorial expansion. It became very difficult to manage an organization that was trying to expand territorially through the control of just one man. The other thing was that the PKK came up with a nominal ideology about Kurdish identity that ignored or suppressed intra-group differences. In particular, the Alevi identity, the Zaza identity, and the religious Sunni Kurdish identity all became subsidiary as the PKK insisted on a single, monolithic Kurdish identity.

The outcome was that at the end of the Kurdish conflict neither independence nor integration materialized. The Turkish government hoped for integration, the PKK hoped for independence, but neither scenario ended up happening. The outcome has been a stalemate, where a strong state faces a resilient insurgency and ultimately neither can truly consolidate the Kurdish territory. [Continue reading…]

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Assad, in rare admission, says Syria’s army lacks manpower

The New York Times reports: In a striking admission, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said on Sunday that the country’s army faced a manpower shortage and had ceded some areas to insurgents in order to hold onto other regions deemed more important.

Mr. Assad also acknowledged in a speech televised from Damascus, the Syrian capital, that many Syrians could not watch the address because of the lack of electricity in many areas and noted the economic hardships that people are facing after more than four years of an increasingly complex civil war.

What was unusual was not the fact of the struggles that Mr. Assad mentioned, which have been obvious for some time, but his mentioning them at all. It was his most substantive public nod yet to the magnitude of the challenges to his government and of the struggles confronting ordinary Syrians. In previous public speeches and interviews, he has sometimes seemed at odds with reality, glossing over setbacks and denying that the government is dropping barrel bombs in the northern city of Aleppo, a well-documented and regular occurrence. [Continue reading…]

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After Arab Spring, journalism briefly flowered and then withered

The Washington Post reports: Just three miles from the gleaming center of town, a local journalist in a rusted, old compact car swerves around trash dumpsters set on fire to deter police cars from entering the impoverished, restive Shiite neighborhoods.

The car stops at a cafe with a view of a small group of protesters, the embers in Bahrain of the Middle East uprisings known as the Arab Spring. The discontent is rarely seen on the local television or radio channels, which are all state-owned, or in the four major daily newspapers, all but one of which is aligned with the Sunni ruling family.

Customers enter the cafe rubbing their eyes and complaining about another night of tear gas. In a corner, a small group of demoralized Bahraini journalists who are no longer able to safely practice their craft gathers to commiserate and pass updates about colleagues in prison or exile.

Reading through the newspapers, former sports reporter Faisal Hayat, 41, takes note of three legal cases against the media. One is his, a 2007 defamation suit brought against him by a former sports minister. Hayat says it is a nuisance suit to ruin him financially. Then there are charges against a newspaper editor filed by the Ministry of Information. Finally, there is the three-year sentence of blogger and activist Zainab Khawaja, a.k.a Angry Arabiya, in part for tearing up a picture of the king in public. [Continue reading…]

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Watch out! Millions of angry, impulsive Americans with guns

Another day, another shooting.

While it’s hard to construct a profile of the typical American shooter who engages in random killing, there are a few generalizations that can be made with reasonable confidence:

1. The shooter will be male,
2. his weapon(s) will much more often than not have been acquired legally, and
3. he’ll probably be white.

Whether a demographically disproportionate number of homicidal, gun-wielding Americans are white, I have no idea. But the latest shooting — this time the gunman, at 59-years-old, was probably above average age — illustrates the fundamental problem with the idea that carrying a gun is the best way to defend yourself against another gun owner who’s on the rampage: By the time you’ve figured out who the crazy guy is, it’s too late. Why? Because the crazy guy looks just like the regular guy.

The gun lobby would have everyone believe that guns are really only dangerous if they get in the wrong hands and thus when gun ownership turns deadly we are encouraged to overlook the central fact: guns are designed to kill.

There are lots of things that can be deadly — cars, alcohol, cigarettes, passenger aircraft, and so forth — but when these become instruments of fatality, they are not performing the function for which they were designed.

But when a gun owner goes on the rampage, unless his weapon malfunctions, each time he kills or injures someone, his gun and its ammunition were functioning exactly in accordance with specifications.

Although guns can be used to pop holes in paper targets or shatter bottles, what they’re really meant to do is rip flesh apart and end lives. This is machine tooled, high precision, state of the art, carnage.

Lisa Wade writes:

While it seems that much of the discourse around curbing gun violence focuses on the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, these two issues — gun violence and mental illness — “intersect only at their edges.” These are the words of Jeffrey Swanson and his colleagues in their new article examining the personality characteristics of American gun owners.

To think otherwise, they argue, is to fall prey to the narrative of gun rights advocates, who want us to think that “controlling people with serious mental illness instead of controlling firearms is the key policy answer.” Since the majority of people with mental illnesses are never violent, this is unlikely to be an effective strategy while, at the same time, further stigmatizing people with mental illness.

What is a good strategy, then, short of the unlikely event that we take America’s guns away?

Swanson and colleagues argue that a better policy would be to look for signs of impulsive, angry, and aggressive behavior and limit gun rights based on that. Evidence of such behavior, they believe, “conveys inherent risk of aggressive or violent acts” substantial enough to justify limiting gun ownership.

By Wade’s estimate, based on an unspecified national data set, there are several million American gun owners who pose a risk.

Political realism may dictate that America’s gun owners can’t be deprived of their cherished weapons, but civil libertarians would just as surely guarantee that no screening process would ever be put in place (if such a process could even be devised) that would keep guns out of the hands of impulsive, angry, and aggressive Americans.

The remedy, it seems to me, will have to come from the other end by making legally available weapons less deadly and by holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for the effects of their products.

No other industry enjoys impunity from product liability yet in 2005, Congress, under pressure from the NRA, conspired with the gun makers to protect their profits at the expense of American lives.

The authors of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act have blood on their hands. Each time the families of victims of yet another mass shooting attempt to sue the gun makers, this law provides them with protection.

The Washington Post reported in 2013 on those stymied efforts.

Marc Bern, a New York trial lawyer representing family members of Aurora victims, said the gun law severely limited his clients’ options. He is pursuing a case against the movie theater company, although some of his clients had expressed interest in trying to pursue companies that provided guns or ammunition to the shooter.

“We looked at the gun industry, but they were able to insulate themselves with this law,” Bern said. “It is absolutely outrageous that the gun industry is not accountable when virtually every other industry in this country is accountable.”

President Obama bemoans the fact that the U.S. does not have “sufficient, common-sense gun safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings,” and the chances of new legislation being crafted during what remains of is term are slim.

He could, however, push for the repeal of the 2005 law.

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