With the toughest gun-control regulations in the country, California has a unique, centralized database of gun purchases that law enforcement can easily search. It offers precious intelligence about a suspect or other people officers may encounter when responding to a call.
But this rare advantage wasn’t enough to help authorities head off the May 23 rampage in Santa Barbara that claimed six victims.
Before a half-dozen sheriff’s deputies knocked on Elliot Rodger’s door last month in response to concerns raised by his mother about his well-being, they could have checked the database and discovered he had bought three 9mm semiautomatic handguns. Several law enforcement officials and legal experts on gun policy said this might have given deputies greater insight into Rodger’s intentions and his capability for doing harm.
The deputies did not check the database. They left his apartment after finding him to be “shy, timid, polite and well-spoken” ...WaPo
The reports yesterday, on NPR, about VA chief Shinseki contained a disheartening and -- for sure -- a frightening account of why we are bound to find fewer and fewer people with distinguished careers working in government. In the end they get fired for not knowing what we don't want them to know. In the case of Eric Shinseki, he stepped in to head a system that was already in many key respects prepared to protect itself from oversight.
A series of reports on NPR shone light on what we've lost in Shinseki and the extent to which we are punishing him at the end of a long and distinguished career. First, an Army general who knew him well and who describes the decision to throw him out. The general's voice is clearly on the edge of tears.
NPR: How important is it to veterans that there remain a discrete system of hospitals that are explicitly for them, as opposed to having access to this great American health care?
CHIARELLI: I think it's very, very important. Veterans issues are different in many instances. If you take a look at the number of injured that we have, that have come out of these particular wars, the VA offers a very high quality of care, particularly in the areas of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Because many of the people who work at the VA hospitals work with veterans all the time, and are able to relate to the experiences that they have gone through. And I will tell you that that's a critical, critical piece.
NPR: This is obviously, I mean I can hear it in your voice, for a lot of people who know and have served with Eric Shinseki, an extremely emotional moment. It's a man who people referred to routinely as a hero and they're not cheapening the word. This, it seems to be, is a case of a very, very good man who's run up against some pretty terrible problems in his job.
CHIARELLI: This is a very, very great man. And to see this happen to him, at this particular time in his life, after his years and years of service, makes this one of the toughest days that I've ever gone through. ...here are lots of lessons learned. I think that everybody has to take responsibility for this. To just point at the VA and not take a look at the entire system and understand how we got to this point is something I think that needs to be done. But the key thing here is that we learn from this, and we give veterans the care that they deserve.
And then another report: Shinseki stood up to George W. Bush who was trying to convince the country that invading and occupying Iraq would be no problem, a breeze. Shinseki knew better.
QUIL LAWRENCE [NPR]: If you've heard of Ric Shinseki before this month, it's probably because of the famous exchange over troop levels in the Iraq war.
SENATOR CARL LEVIN: General Shinseki, could you give us some ideas to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq?
LAWRENCE: That was Senator Carl Levin on the eve of the U.S. invasion, 2003. Shinseki was Army Chief of Staff.
ERIC SHINSEKI: This point, something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably - we're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant.
LAWRENCE: That contradicted the George W. Bush administration's plans of a quick invasion with a much smaller force. His candor effectively ended a 38 year Army career, which included two combat tours in Vietnam, two Purple Hearts - one from the landmine that caused most of Shinseki his foot.
Shinseki was credited with pushing through the Stryker vehicle - a sort of tank on wheels - very popular with soldiers in Iraq for mobility and resistance to IEDs. When his predictions on Iraq came true, baseball caps started appearing around the Army that read, Ric was right. But safe to say, Shinseki never wore one.
BOB SCALES: He's not the type of person who would ever say "I told you so" or "I was right."
In other words, Eric Shinseki has the rare ability (well, rare in Congress... in politics) to deal with the truth. Can the same be said, at this point, about Obama?
Normally, the country gets steadily more liberal during Republican presidencies and steadily more conservative during Democratic presidencies. This is, presumably, because voters get increasingly tired of whoever's in power and more open to the idea that the other guys might have better answers. But this time that hasn't happened. There's too much noise in the Gallup chart to draw any definitive conclusions, but if you compare the numbers now to the average from the last few years of the Bush presidency, the country has actually gotten a bit more liberal. That's something that rarely happens six years into a Democratic presidency.
The trend is more noticeable on social issues, which shouldn't surprise anyone. On gay rights in particular, the country has plainly moved in the direction of more tolerance, and conservatives are just flatly out of step. As this trend continues—and it's inexorable at this point—the conservative position strikes more and more people as not merely misguided, but just plain ugly. And you don't self-ID with an ideology that you think is ugly.
It's a funny thing. People say they don't like President Obama's foreign policy, but it turns out they approve of the specific things he's doing. They say they don't like Obamacare, but they like the things Obamacare does. They say they don't like Obama's economic policy, but they largely approve of his actual positions. You see this over and over. It doesn't look like Obama is doing much to move the country in a more liberal direction, but in his slow, methodical, pragmatic way, he's doing just that. A lot of people might not know it, but they're attracted by his no-drama approach to incremental social change. It frustrates those of us who want to see things change faster, but in the end, it might turn out to be pretty effective. ...Drum,MoJo
Does the Shinseki resignation solve the problems of the Veterans Administration? No, but it looks as though it will create double trouble for the VA unless Republicans deliberately shove the VA mess to the back burner.
Thing is, the mess belongs to Congress and to Republicans in this Congress more notably. Congress has been, over the years, where the VA problems originate.
In any publicly financed medical system, funding is a chronic problem, and so is internal organization. (If you want another example of this, look at the history of the British National Health Service.) One possible solution would be to link the V.A.’s budget to the number of veterans and patients, effectively turning treatment into an entitlement program, but this hasn’t been done. Instead, Congress appropriates money for the agency in every budget cycle, and, in recent years, it has often come up short.
The Republicans in Congress are largely responsible for this. As recently as February, more than forty G.O.P. senators voted against a bill that would have expanded funding for the V.A. Some of the Obama Administration’s well-intentioned policies have also contributed to the squeeze on resources. By making it easier for veterans of all ages to get treatment for ailments that aren’t necessarily conflict-related, the Administration increased the demand for medical services. However, the V.A. system still has the same number of hospitals and staff—indeed, as the Times reported on Friday, the agency has a big shortage of doctors.
That wasn’t Shinseki’s doing. He’d been quietly lobbying for more funding and more investment, which hasn’t been forthcoming. But now he is the fall guy. That is, unless President Obama stands up and tells people what the real problem is. ...JohnCassidy,NewYorker
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to love war. Even admitting we have a huge population of vets from our shameless wars of choice -- the Vietnam War and every war since -- is admitting the heavy cost of their political choices.
Bureaucratic blindness and corruption within the VA take a toll, too, but they're nothing compared to the enormities of choosing war for political reasons and then avoiding spending on the wounded.
At the very least, we can count on the outcome Paul Waldman predicts:
...The reality is that as long as Shinseki was in office, Republicans would have a target at whom to shake their fists, and a way to keep the political story in the news. They benefited greatly from being able to call angrily for his resignation, an almost content-free bit of political theater that any candidate or member of Congress can participate in. But once he resigns, the focus has to turn to actually addressing the department’s problems, and that’s something that every candidate and almost all members of Congress will be completely uninterested in.
The more important problem is the very complicated practical question of how to fix what’s wrong at the V.A. Some parts of it, like making it harder for managers to game the system to make it seem like delays in getting appointments are shorter than they are, may be easy to solve. Others, like actually getting all those vets in quickly given the limited manpower of V.A. health facilities, are going to be a lot harder to solve.
After a couple of days the V.A. story will probably move from the front page to the inside pages. But those of us in the media should keep paying attention to how the project to fix the department goes, even if politicians stop talking about it. That’s what really matters. ...Waldman,WaPo
We allow Congress to walk away from guilt and embarrassment. Already we're a bunch of shootings on down the road and in the "oh yeah, when was that Sandy Hook thing?" stage of gun control. As for the vets issue... Heck, now we're on the other side of Memorial Day, so we'll just surge forward to flag pin-'n'-picnic day in July having done our bit for vets in ... Was it May? What was the name of that guy who got fired resigned?
Just two sentences from a customer review of John Steinbeck's "Sea of Cortez" at Amazon.
"Not a travel log but a continued socialist agenda that I should have known better to buy. When he practiced capitalism selling his books, not giving them away, I have to applaud him. He made a lot of money. ..."
One of the more dangerous, revealing passages in Steinbeck's adventure is, of course, this:
"...It is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical outcrying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable."
Nonsense. Men were created to take charge, not stand around admiring a bunch of planets and plankton.