How Gun Crazy is America? So Crazy that nine-year-old girls are allowed to shoot Uzis.

I was in West Yellowstone, Montana a couple of weeks ago and while walking around the town checking out the stores and restaurants, I saw this sign:

Big Gun Fun sign… and I thought it was a bad idea.

Their website posts the following testimonial:

“All our family can talk about with our Yellowstone Adventure is the fun they had shooting the machine guns at Big Gun Fun.”

Not the geysers and the fascinating thermal pools and “paint pots”, not the wildlife, not the hiking trails, the rivers and lakes. Nope. Just shooting machine guns.

Well it turns out that no matter how much fun a family had shooting machine guns in West Yellowstone, it’s a bad idea for unskilled people to get their kicks pretending they are James Bond, Clint Eastwood, or… Hit Girl.

I read today about a deadly shooting at a similar facility in Arizona. The Guardian reports:

The manager of an Arizona shooting range where a nine-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed her instructor with an Uzi said he has trained children as young as five on the use of firearms but the range’s policies on minors is currently under review.

The Mohave County Sheriff’s office released a video of the incident apparently captured on a phone by the girl’s parents, which it provided to the Guardian.

The video shows a raven-haired girl wearing hot pink shorts and ear muffs gripping the Uzi in her hands as she takes aim at a silhouette target. Before she shoots, Vacca adjusts her stance, and places one of his hands under the gun and the other behind the girl’s back. She fires once, hitting the dirt beside the target.

“Alright!” Vacca says cheerfully. Then he switches the settings from “single-shot” to “fully automatic”, and shouts: “Alright. Full auto.” She fires several rounds rapidly, and the video cuts.

Investigators said that when the girl pulled the trigger on the automatic Uzi, the recoil sent the gun over her head. Vacca was shot at least once in the head. It is unclear how many shots were fired.

A nine-year-old girl was allowed to shoot an Uzi? (Be sure to click on the The Guardian link to see the still shot from the cell-phone video of the girl and the instructor). Crazy enough that he let a little girl shoot and Uzi at all, but in full-auto mode? How crazy is that? How could he ever have thought that could possibly be an okay thing to do?

Having seen Kick Ass a few times, I couldn’t help but think of the movie when I read the story. Nicolas Cage plays the father of Hit Girl who is played by a young Chloë Grace Moretz, and she looks like she could be nine or ten years old in the movie. Hit Girl’s father was pretty crazy and obsessed with weapons, but he was a far better gun instructor than the man killed in Arizona.

It’s bad enough that he died a tragic and senseless death because of several stupid people making terrible decisions simply because people thinks it’s Big Fun to shoot machine guns. But what about the girl? She’s only nine years old and she’s shot a man in the head with an Uzi and killed him. How fucked up is she going to be? Probably a lot. Well unless she’s been taught by her parents that sometimes people make mistakes that can easily be erased just by saying “My Bad” like they do in the movies. Then all is forgiven and everything will be okay.

Too Bad for the Black People of Ferguson that their Police don’t have the same Mindset as Inspector Simon Kefas in Jo Nesbø’s book, The Son

Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old black man, was shot six times and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. Witnesses report that Michael Brown was surrendering at the time he was shot in the head at point-blank range. Ten days later 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, another black man, was shot nine times and killed by St. Louis Police officers after he had stolen two cans of energy drinks and some muffins from a convenience store.

This is a passage from Jo Nesbø’s latest novel, The Son. It’s a conversation between Inspector Simon Kefas and his nephew Mats.

Simon and Mats went out into the hallway and the boy squealed with delight when he saw the black-and-white police cap which his uncle took down from the wardrobe shelf. But he grew silent and reverent when Simon placed the cap on his head. They stood in front of the mirror. The boy pointed to the reflection of his uncle and made shooting noises.

“Who are you shooting at?” his uncle asked him.

“Villains,” the boy spluttered. “Bang! Bang!”

“Let’s call it target practice,” Simon said. “Even the police can’t shoot villains without permission.”

“Yes, you can! Bang! Bang!”

“If we do that, Mats, we go to jail.”

“We do?” the boy stopped and gave his uncle a baffled look. “Why? We’re the police.”

“Because if we shoot someone we could otherwise have arrested that makes us the bad guys.”

“But… when we’ve caught them, then we can shoot them, can’t we?”

Simon laughed, “No. The it’s up to the judge to decide how long they’ll go to prison.”

“I thought you decided that Uncle Simon.”

Simon could see the disappointment in the boy’s eyes. “Let  me tell you something, Mats. I’m glad I don’t have to decide that. I’m glad that all I have to do is catch criminals. Because that’s the fun part of the job.”

Here’s a quiz in the form of a Jack Ohman comic I read in today’s paper:

Ohman Police Mindset Do I need to tell you the answer?

Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

In Wayne County, Michigan last Thursday, Theodore Wafer was found guilty on all three charges of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearm in the shooting death of 19 year old Renisha McBride on the porch of his house in Dearborn Heights, MI.

McBride was one of a depressing litany of unarmed victims who have fallen prey to gun carriers claiming self-defense.

Other well publicized cases included Trayvon Martin in Florida; Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year old man from Georgia suffering from Alzheimer’s who was shot in circumstances similar to McBride; Jordan Davis, who was shot dead while he sat in a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot; and Chad Oulson who was killed by a gun carrier following an altercation with an angry movie-goer with a gun over texting during the previews.

Convictions have been harder to come by than liberal Republicans in the gun-friendly legal environment that prevails in many states.

George Zimmerman, of course, was found not guilty in Martin’s case.

And a Florida jury deadlocked on whether Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis, although they did nail him for the attempted murder of his three equally unarmed friends, who were lucky to escape with their own lives after Dunn fired at them as they fled the car park. He is to be retried on the murder charge but, as with Ronald Westbrook’s killing in Georgia, prosecutors will again be seriously impeded by a lunatic stand-your-ground law that makes a conviction very difficult; more power to the prosecutors, therefore, that they won’t give up.

Depressingly, the alleged shooter of Westbrook was not even charged because prosecutors did not believe they could overcome Georgia’s stand-your-ground law to win a conviction.

The trial of the man accused of killing Oulson is pending.

Many saw the McBride case as one suffused with racial undertones but, in the end, a jury cut through all of that and simply saw a man who had acted recklessly and without justification to cut short the life of a young woman on a flimsy and ultimately unconvincing assertion that he felt threatened and in danger.

Too many states have virtually given gun carriers a license to kill with their misguided and dangerous SYG laws and, as we have seen all too often, holding the perpetrators accountable has been a huge challenge.

But Renisha McBride was not forgotten, not by this jury and not by the justice system that put her killer on trial and won a conviction.

It would be nice to think that more courts in other places in America will start to hold gun carriers accountable when their unreasoning fear or anger ends in an unnecessary death. But I won’t hold my breath.

Still, I’m glad that Renisha McBride and her family received a measure of the justice they so richly deserved. It’s not enough but it will have to do for now.

Greetings from Georgetown, Seattle’s oldest neighborhood

Georgetow welcome sign

According to Wikipedia, it is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, established in 1851.

I was in Georgetown Thursday evening drinking beers at the Machine House Brewery with friends. I hadn’t spent much time in the neighborhood before, and didn’t wander around much while I was there. I did, however see dozens of very large jets flying just a couple hundred yards above the buildings as they approached the landing strip at Boeing Field. Very loud, and quite startling at times. I thought why Georgetown? This neighborhood should be named Jet City.

I road my bike down to Georgetown this morning with hopes of getting some great shots of jets flying overhead, but I never saw or heard a jet the whole hour I was there wandering around. I guess they don’t schedule flights in on Saturday mornings so as not to distract visitors from taking in all it has to offer.

Georgetown is home to the building that housed the original Rainier Brewery. It now houses the Machine House Brewery.

Machine House Brewery

Georgetown’s tether ball rules are posted on a fence.

Georgetown tether-ball rules sign

I didn’t see a tether-ball pole anywhere near it. Maybe they bring it out for special occasions.

Ever been to a trailer-park mall?

Georgetown Trailer Park Mall

If you were there today you could win monkey art in a raffle.

Trailer Park Mall monkey sculpture raffle

Next trip I’m hoping there are jets roaring over me again.

High price paid by states that did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare

There has been no shortage of good news about the beneficial effects of the Affordable Care Act, particularly for those states that embraced it; and on the overall reduction in the percentage of uninsured adults in the country.

However, research by the Urban Institute also highlights the steep price paid by states that fought it tooth and nail, notably in the South.

For example, as of June 2014, 49% of the remaining uninsured adults in the United States live in the South, up from 41.5% before the act took effect in September 2013. Furthermore, almost 61% of uninsured adults reside in states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA compared to less than 50% before the ACA.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. The Urban Institute has quantified the billions in federal money lost by (mostly Red) states that rejected expanded Medicaid, as explained in this piece from Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic, again based on research by the Urban Institute. The excuse offered by Republican governors that they are simply being fiscally responsible is exposed for the nonsense it is by the map in Cohn’s piece.

Georgia, for example, saves $2.5 billion in what it would have spent to expand Medicaid over the course of a decade, but stands to lose $33.5 billion in federal funds, more than ten times as much. And of course it does nothing for the 20.2 % of Georgia adults who are still uninsured; in fact and as lamented in this piece from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state now has the third highest rate of uninsured behind the perennial champs, Texas and Mississippi.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

The economic boom in Texas is no vindication of conservative governance.

In a recent blog piece in The New York Times, Nobel-prize winning economist and liberal columnist Paul Krugman recounted an effort by Stephen Moore, a conservative economist with the Heritage Foundation, to demonstrate that tax slashing (Red) states have outperformed high tax (Blue) states in job and overall economic growth. It transpired that Moore had evidently been piqued by a column Krugman had written earlier about Kansas GOP Governor Sam Brownback’s disastrous tax-cutting binge which has left the state with a huge deficit while doing next to nothing to grow the economy.

The problem was that the most specific claims in Moore’s article, which appeared in the Kansas City Star, were inaccurate and completely misleading. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data he cited which he said were for the last five years were actually from an earlier period starting just before the last Great Recession. These skewed the numbers to the point of uselessness. Moore claimed he made a “mistake”.  I believe him, but thousands wouldn’t.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised because ideological blinkering long ago supplanted truth and facts in the alternate universe occupied by most conservatives – even ones with PhDs. And as Krugman says in his piece, comparing states is, in any case, an inexact science given stark differences in key areas such as the price of housing.

But for me it raised a more fundamental question. After all Texas has been extolled as an example of successful conservative governance not only by Moore in his dodgy article, but in a June issue of The Economist a far more credible source. But is it enough to measure success, particularly as it relates to whether a state is well governed, by the number of jobs produced in a given period (one driven, at least in part, by the oil and gas industries) or its economic growth rate? Certainly by these measurements Texas is flourishing; but when viewed against what many consider are other key metrics, such as the economic well-being of its lower-income residents, not so much.

Poverty-USA ranks Texas 40th among states. And in its report on child well-being, the Annie E Casey Foundation  ranks Texas 43rd overall, this in a country which as a whole ranks near the bottom among rich countries. Out of 16 measurements of economic, educational, health, and family/community well-being examined by AECF, Texas only managed to beat the national average in 4 of them. Its efforts in the areas of health and family/community support were particularly dismal.

Finally, this table from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the income threshold for adults with children to be eligible for Medicaid is an eye-popping $3,736 for a family of three, placing it only behind Alabama as the stingiest of states. Even Mississippi is more generous (albeit not by much).

And the disparities between states like Texas and their Blue State peers are only likely to grow. This is especially so when it comes to health as the rate of uninsured likely continues to drop significantly in states that fully embraced the Affordable Care Act, while staying the same or decreasing only marginally in Texas and other states that have fought it tooth and nail.

I don’t expect any sense from an ideologue such as Stephen Moore but The Economist should be ashamed of itself for mistaking Texas for a well governed state.

It’s nice to be able to brag about economic growth but what good is it if an ideologically blinkered and uncaring government does little to use the generated wealth to improve the lot of its neediest residents?

Pickathon 2014 Special Report from Happy Valley, Part 3

Day 3 started with Woods at the Woods stage, our second time seeing this band. In addition to their great hooks, I would add they make full use of the Hammond organ sounding keyboards and it sounded great. Then we were in great position to watch Angel Olsen. This time we had full success. Zippy summed it up this way, “she was totally awesome”. She was a little Cat Power, crossed with Jeff Buckley and a sprinkling of Roy Orbison. Then we caught a crowd pleaser, Shakey Graves. On to the utter train wreck that was Foxygen. They had sound problems from the get-go followed by lead-singer antics which included stripping off his sparkly shirt, spasmodic leaping around, and even an attempt to climb the stage tower soaking wet. The performance settled down for the back half of the set which was less scary and more enjoyable to watch. Then a fabulous performance by the Aussie, Courtney Barnett. That gal can rock. A wonderfully clean three piece that made my top three performances. As the sun set, we ended our Pickathon experience with a couple songs from the wonderful X. Ya can’t beat that. That does it from Happy Valley. This is Zippy, Jax and Missizippy signing off.

Pickathon 2014 Special Report from Happy Valley, Part 2

Missizippy’s second installment:

Happy Valley correspondent here. We wrapped up a stellar day 2 at Pickathon with a Galaxy Barn hot box show by the fabulous Sadies, with friend and fellow rocker Jon Doe in attendance also. Speaking of Jon Doe, we caught X at the Woods stage for their “acoustic” show which was anything but acoustic. All the original players were on stage with DJ Bonebrake foregoing his drum kit to serve as multi instrumentalist including playing vibes on several tracts. The crowd sang along to every old song. The Lucky Barn was not lucky for us as we tried to get in to see Angel Olsen but were denied. As it turned out the performance was more of a Q&A workshop so will try again today for regular performance at the Woods Stage. Instead we caught Robbie Fulks at the Tree Line stage and he was having a good time with his band and the crowd. He said he is coming to Seattle this week. I would recommend going. The Woods (band, not stage) were incredible in the hot box Barn. The youngsters have wonderful hooks. We started off the day in a beautiful way, Valerie June in the Woods. Her voice was incredible as were her stories and her sparkly cocktail dress.

Missizippy out.

Pickathon 2014 Special Report from Happy Valley, Part 1

Harikari has engaged Missizippy to report on Pickathon 2014. Here’s her first field report:

After a superb dining experience at Le Pigeon in Portland Thursday night, it was off to the woods the next day. Highlights of Friday shows at Pickathon include a sweat box performance by Those Darlin’s in the Galaxy Barn, Houndstooth at the Tree Line Stage where we sat against pallet chairs 10 feet from the cutest little beer garden ever, and we capped the night with a surreal experience at the Woods stage for War on Drugs under a canopy of slightly menacing dead tree branches. Look forward to Angel Olsen, Valerie June, X and Sadie’s today.