Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Reading

Drop the Guns — George Zornick in The Nation on why Walmart decided to end the sale of assault weapons.

For many years, you could walk into America’s most ubiquitous retail store and walk out with a military-style assault rifle. That will soon be impossible. Walmart announced this week that it will discontinue sales of “modern” sporting rifles, which are often fashioned to look like military weapons. It will also cease sales of any other gun that can carry high-capacity ammunition rounds.

The store claims the shift is a response to sales; a spokesman told Newsweek simply that “customers weren’t buying them.”

But there are serious reasons to question that justification, and instead to see a notable moment in evolving American views and standards on gun control.

Nationwide, gun sales are going up, not down, according to FBI data on background check requests. That’s the most reliable barometer of gun sales nationwide. While it doesn’t capture online sales or others where background checks are not required, Walmart does run them.

Analyses of the gun industry consistently show that assault rifles are a popular choice for consumers. The National Sports Shooting Foundation said in congressional testimony last year that there were 5 to 8.2 million assault rifles in the United States. Gun shop owners explained that if assault-rifle sales tail off at all, it’s because customers most likely owned one at some point. “The market is saturated. The market is flooded with them,” one gun merchant toldUSA Today late last year.

Walmart doesn’t report detailed sales numbers, and it’s possible there’s something idiosyncratic about Walmart gun customers that makes assault rifles unattractive. That would make them unlike gun customers nationwide—and Walmart is the country’s largest gun retailer, as we reported in detail in late 2012.

We also know gun sales are a big moneymaker for the retailer. A Walmart executive vice president told shareholders in 2012 that gun sales were a staple of improving sales numbers, and that gun sales increased 76 percent over the 26 previous months.

That’s all to say: Walmart’s explanation for stopping assault-weapons sales is not terribly convincing. More likely, the store is responding to increased concerns about gun control, and realizing that selling military-looking weapons three aisles over from diapers is untenable in a country where mass shootings continue to increase, and where more than half of shooters use assault weapons or high-capacity weapons. When I was working on the 2012 story, I contacted Walmart to request comment on the fact that they were selling the same gun Adam Lanza had just used during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The gun quickly disappeared from Walmart’s site, only to reappear later.

But Walmart executives had to be worried about another similar scenario—maybe even where the shooter buys their gun from Walmart directly.

People are often (and rightfully) frustrated with the lack of progress on gun control at the national level, but smaller victories at the state and municipal level are often overlooked. Several states from Washington to Connecticut instituted tougher gun laws since Newtown, and it’s become an increasingly potent message for big-city mayors.

This is the new reality Walmart is probably responding to—especially since the store’s new growth plan involves pushing into urban centers where, until now, there haven’t been many Walmart stores. (That may also explain Walmart’s quick decision to do away with Confederate flag products after the massacre in Charleston.)

Mayors often used Walmart’s gun sales as a reason not to approve a location, even if the company pledged not to sell weapons at that particular prospective store. New York City is even considering divesting from Walmart because of its weapons sales.

So while Walmart still remains the country’s largest gun retailer, their self-imposed assault-weapons ban can fairly be seen as a small victory for gun control advocates: It’s a new world Walmart finds itself selling in.

You Wanna Talk Katrina? — Cheryl Wagner in TPM on what it cost to stay after the flood.

…My returning neighbors and I slowly but surely stabilized the deserted blocks. Those of us who lived on-site in trailers or in the upstairs of flooded and gutted houses served as watchmen against house strippers and copper thieves. We sat with the elderly who returned to their ruined homes and listened to their stories. We planted gardens. We shared tools and helped each other carry heavy things. We intervened when children returned without adequate adult supervision bounced on moldy curbside mattresses and became the targets of drifter grifters’ stolen goods schemes. We conferred about insurance and Road Home problems and spent years of our lives untangling snafus. We picked through rubble and high weeds and weird and awful garbage and peeked in abandoned windows to help catalog the blight. We met with city officials when neighbors had family members gunned down in front of their houses by patrons of seedy, makeshift bars. Reading it now, the list is as incomplete as it is long and absurd and exhausting.

Despite these efforts, the vantage of 10 years has made it easier to see rebuilding’s true and total cost to me and others. Not only did years of our lives get sacrificed to a bureaucratic and literal quagmire, but also there’s an awful lot that, as the joke goes, can never be unseen. So in my head movie of the rerun of my life, sometimes I cue the reel where I pull a Homer Simpson. His platform when he ran for Sanitation Commissioner becomes mine. “Can’t someone else do it?”

Some of my mixed feelings stem from the mixed results of the rebuild. A good bit of what some neighbors and I had hoped for in the endless series of civic planning meetings never materialized. Simple things like safe neighborhoods and affordable housing and easier paths for former New Orleanians to return to their former homes for many never became a reality. New Orleans and Louisiana is now full of people who, for various reasons, don’t like to talk much about the flood. And now I’m one of them.

Facebook has become a minefield of Louisianans barking at each other to either stop talking about the flood in the way they are talking about it or to just stop talking about the flood, period. Angry diatribes about the production of commemorative Katrina snow globes battle old photos of friends in white hazmat suits cleaning out their flooded houses. Memes circulate of a vintage comic book Batman bat-slapping Robin under the words “Ten years after Katrina? SHUT THE HELL UP.”

Some of this is Katrina fatigue from the are-you-still-chewing-that-old-bone? crowd that did not flood, but it’s also that people who suffered greatly don’t want their wound constantly poked at with a media stick. What don’t they want to be reminded of? You name it. Loss of family or friends that died in the flood. Loss of family and friends from stress or rebuilding accidents or suicide in the flood’s prolonged aftermath that no one ever counted among the official dead. The financial shitstorm the flood opened up in their lives that they are still trying to ride out. All the K-splainers who have moved to town. The cheesy disaster art and music. Their vanished photos and clothes and books and records they know was “just stuff” but used to give them tangible proof of who they were and where they had been anyway. How they don’t trust the government or insurance companies quite the same anymore. Why they can’t afford to rent or live in their old neighborhoods. How places like New Orleans East and Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward and elsewhere still look pretty bruised. That some contractors came to town to try to rip them off and succeeded. How that wall looks crooked and that tile seems a little warpy and guess what? It is—because they had to repair it themselves.

What I don’t particularly care to talk about or remember is both little and big. Escape holes cut in roofs. Mattresses and clothes scattered on the sides of elevated highways. Mold and fetid refrigerators and creepy clouds of plaster dust that billowed up the street. All the women sitting on their front steps with their heads in their hands. My basset hounds swallowing roof slate and wire from having to live with me in the disaster zone. And I don’t want to be reminded that my friend was murdered in the aftermath and no one ever got caught or punished for it and she and her memory evaporated, like much of what happened, into time and smoke.

But sometimes being willing to talk moves the conversation forward. And what I do want to talk about is this: everything my Mom was worried would take its toll and was unable to communicate to me when I was caught up in the fight-or-flight of the moment. We don’t choose our disasters, but when disasters happen, should we lean in and ride them out to their wild conclusions—or just get the hell out of the way?

Vin Scully Goes For 67 — The long-time Dodgers broadcaster will return for one more season next year.

On the surface, the most impressive thing about Scully is his longevity. When the 21-year-old redhead from The Bronx broadcast his first Dodgers game in 1950, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Bob Feller were active. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle had not yet started their careers. Cy Young, a 19th century star whose name is synonymous with pitching greatness, was still alive. The Dodgers’ own Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier just three years earlier—and the majority of the league’s 16 teams had still never employed a black player. No city west of the Mississippi River would have its own team for eight more years, when Scully accompanied Brooklyn’s Dodgers west to Los Angeles.

But Scully is more than just an announcer who happened to stick around for a long time.

He’s also probably the best baseball broadcaster to ever live, and a man whose influence is felt across the American sports landscape. Scully began his career in an era when the vast majority of baseball games were not televised, and his style—conversational rather than kinetic—was perfectly suited to the medium.

Baseball is a game of stillness, where slight, almost imperceptible shifts carry great consequences. A Scully broadcast includes the standard description of home runs, ground ball outs, and intentional walks. But you also learn that the glare of the afternoon sun caused the right fielder to misjudge a fly ball, or that the pitcher shook off the catcher’s sign three times before throwing a slider in the dirt.

As with other broadcasters, Scully tells you what each player’s batting average is. But you’re also told that the center fielder’s father was a country doctor in Indiana, or that the shortstop toiled in the minor leagues for a full decade before earning his chance in the majors. It is these details that, whether you’re lying in bed with the radio on or stuck in traffic on the 405, turn each Scully broadcast into a vivid work of art.

More importantly, Scully also knows when to be silent. Consider one of his most famous broadcasts, that of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on September 9, 1965. As the great left-handed pitcher struck out batter after batter in the later innings, Scully expertly conveyed the sense of excitement and wonder permeating Dodger Stadium. But when Koufax retired Harvey Kuenn to preserve the rare feat, Scully said nothing—the crowd’s reaction was all the color he needed. The remarkable conclusion to the 50-year-old game is preserved here:

As televised baseball spread in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, Scully was frequently assigned to the sport’s grandest events, and throughout his career he would cover 25 different World Series. These days are long gone—nowadays, Scully limits himself to Dodgers games on the West Coast. But to those fans lucky enough to listen to his broadcasts, it’s clear that the octogenarian isn’t coasting on his reputation. Scully knows the game’s contemporary players as well as the tens of thousands he’s described in the past, and is never caught unprepared. And in an age when announcers increasingly resort to forced folksiness or blatant homerism, Scully’s quiet professionalism remains as vital as ever.

Scully has intimated that 2016 will likely be his last season. He said last night, “I do feel in my bones … that will be enough.”

Doonesbury — Old timers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Short Takes

China devalued their currency to stabilize their place in the world market.

Right-wing armed militia freaks show up to “patrol” Ferguson with assault rifles.

Greece is on the verge of clinching a deal for a new bailout.

The EPA is hard at work to clean up its ten-million gallon mess in Colorado and New Mexico.

Watch the skies: The Perseid meteor shower peaks this week.

The Tigers lost 6-1 in K.C.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Short Takes

The Saudis like the Iran nuclear framework.

California agriculture is exempt from water restrictions.

Closing arguments in the Boston bombing trial.

Carbon monoxide kills eight in Maryland family.

Duke beat Wisconsin.

The Tigers won their Opening Day game against the Twins 4-0.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Short Takes

Three men from Brooklyn were arrested on charges of plotting to foment terrorism in collusion with ISIS.

The Senate moved a clean DHS funding bill towards passage.  The House, on the other hand, is not happy about it.

New Fukushima reactor leak went unreported for months.

Morgan Stanley will pay fine of $2.6 billion to settle the mortgage cases.

Chicago voters forced the mayoral election into a run-off.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of Defense stands up for transgender people in the service.

Malls in U.S. on alert after terror threat.

More winter weather hits the South.

South African miners rescued after fire.

New killer virus found in Kansas.

And the Oscars went to…  (And my brother was right about Birdman.)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Short Takes

U.S. to equip moderate Syrian rebels.  (Define “moderate.”)

Taliban suicide bombers struck a police station in Afghanistan.

Ukraine — It’s not really a “cease fire” if people are still getting shot at.

The derailed train carrying crude oil in West Virginia kept burning.

A delegation of House Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi traveled to Cuba.

Oregon gets a new governor today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Takes

Egypt strikes back at ISIS in Libya.

Danish officials say they have arrested two people in connection with an attack at a freedom-of-speech event over the weekend.

A train carrying crude oil derailed in West Virginia; several hundred people evacuated.

The government is intervening in the labor dispute that has slowed shipping at West Coast ports.

Now it’s ice — The Southeast and Northeast brace for more bad weather.

6.8 earthquake hits northern Japan.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Short Takes

President Obama at NATO summit: reject isolationism.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell convicted on corruption charges.

BP found “reckless” in Gulf spill; faces $18 billion fine.

Federal judge blocks Ohio early-voting change.

Kansas A.G. blocks Democratic candidate’s withdrawal from Senate race.

R.I.P. Joan Rivers, 81, comedian, director, and producer.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 11-4 in extra innings.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking Down and Escalating

The situation in Ferguson has deteriorated since last night.  There are reports of “coordinated attacks,” police are threatening news reporters, and the governor has called in the National Guard.

Missouri’s governor ordered the National Guard onto the streets of Ferguson early Monday after another night of violence following the shooting of an unarmed black teen by police. “Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement. “Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson, I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard to assist … in restoring peace and order to this community.”

Meanwhile, the autopsy requested by the family of the man killed that started this situation has been released.  According to the report, he was shot six times, all shots hitting him in the front of his body.

One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family’s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.

Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.

The bullets did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no gunpowder was present on his body. However, that determination could change if it turns out that there is gunshot residue on Mr. Brown’s clothing, to which Dr. Baden did not have access.

I’m no crime scene expert, and watching reruns of Castle and CSI doesn’t make me one, but it the fatal shot struck him on the top of his head and he was over six feet tall, that suggests that he was neither running away from the police officer or even standing up.

A couple of days it seemed as if the situation was calming down.  Replacing the local police in heavy armor and artillery with the state police who walked among the citizens and talked to them as people seemed to be working.  Then the local police felt the need to release a video from a crime scene that was unrelated to the shooting but showed Mr. Brown as a criminal suspect in a robbery.  That inflamed the issue all over again because it made it look as if the officer that shot him was responding to the robbery when in fact he was not.

We are now back to where we were before cooler heads prevailed.  The National Guard is not a police force, they are a branch of the military.  How exactly will they restore “peace and order” in the community?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Short Takes

Both sides have the deadliest day in Gaza.

Many bodies of crash victims held by Ukrainian rebels.

Kerry says Russia trained separatists on how to use the missiles.

Three teens held in Albuquerque homeless killing.

Rory McIlroy wins British Open.

The Tigers avoided getting swept by Cleveland 5-1.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Short Takes

Droning on in Iraq: Political leaders are looking for someone to replace the current prime minister.

Syria: President Obama requests $500 million for rebels.

SCOTUS: The Court ruled against President Obama’s recess appointments and struck down abortion clinic buffer zones.

Arizona firefighter families sue over deaths.

End of the road for India’s iconic Ambassador automobile.

R.I.P. Howard Baker, 88, former Republican Senator from Tennessee.  Classy guy who couldn’t get nominated in the G.O.P. today.

The Tigers swept the Rangers 6-0 and extend their streak to seven wins.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Short Takes

The Department of Justice charges five Chinese military officials with hacking into U.S. computers.

Heard this before — Vladimir Putin says he’s ordered Russian troops on the Ukraine border back home.

Turkey detains mining officials over the deadly explosion last week.

A third case of MERS is reported in the U.S.

Credit Suisse pleads guilty to tax evasion scheme.

The Tigers lost in 10 to the team from Cleveland 5-4.

Saturday, May 17, 2014