All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

DANGER! U.S. Supreme Court rules that your neighbor can own and operate a machine gun

Court holds technical issue more important than saving lives

In her scathing dissent, liberal justice Sonia Sotomayor accused her conservative colleagues of ignoring bump stocks’ ability to transform semiautomatic firearms into much more powerful and deadly weapons….A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires ‘automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger’.… Because I, like Congress, call that a machine gun, I respectfully dissent…..The majority’s artificially narrow definition hamstrings the government’s efforts to keep machine guns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter.”

>> Back in 2019, the BenIndy covered news of the passage of the bump stock ban following the Las Vegas massacre. At that time, the welcome headline was Bump Stock Ban Now Official Nationwide – Supreme Court. A few days later, a follow-up story headline was Supreme Court Refuses to Block ‘Bump Stock’ Ban Over Thomas and Gorsuch’s Dissent.

Public reaction was so strong after the Las Vegas disaster that even the National Rifle Association joined the call for the add-ons to be taken out of circulation.

Oh how times have changed – on the Supreme Court, that is. Today, the 6 rightwing justices took issue with the technical definition of a machine gun and ignored the fundamental intent of the 1930’s machine gun ban AND the 2019 bump stock ban – to eliminate the massive threat of high volume military style weaponry on our streets. Reporting by the New York Times and others follow here.

NYT Editorial: The Supreme Court’s Bump Stock Decision Will Prove Fatal

New York Times, by David Firestone, Deputy Editor, the Editorial Board

There was nothing abstract about the 6-to-3 decision issued Friday morning by the Supreme Court to permit bump stocks to be used on semiautomatic rifles. It is one of the most astonishingly dangerous decisions ever issued by the court, and it will almost surely result in a loss of American lives in another mass shooting.

Bump stocks attach to the back of a rifle and use the gun’s recoil to enable shooting hundreds of bullets at a very rapid pace, far faster than anyone could shoot by pressing the trigger multiple times. The device is the reason the Las Vegas shooter in 2017 was able to kill 60 people and wound more than 400 others so quickly in the nation’s worst mass shooting in modern history.

Bump stock devices were banned the next year, just as all fully automatic machine guns are banned for public use, but the six conservative members of the court seemed entirely unbothered by their deadly potential. The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, parses in a ridiculous level of detail whether bump stocks truly fit the precise mechanical definition of a machine gun. Because the court feels the need to give the greatest possible deference to the ownership of guns, however they might be used, the court concluded that they are not really machine guns, as they do not allow firing multiple rounds “by a single function of the trigger.”

The opinion, full of lovingly detailed close-up drawings of a gun’s innards (provided by the Firearms Policy Foundation, a pro-gun nonprofit group), says nothing about the purpose of a bump stock. Why would someone buy the device and use it? Only to fire a lightning burst of rounds. In the hands of an angry shooter — and there are so many of them — it would produce far more carnage, which is why even the Trump administration banned it.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent laced with astonishment at what her colleagues had done, didn’t hesitate to explain what was really happening. “When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” she wrote, and in this case, the duck is an illegal machine gun. (Which, by the way, is not typically used for killing ducks.) Skilled shooters using an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle can fire 180 rounds per minute, she wrote, but a bump stock allows them to fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute, which is the ordinary understanding of a fully automatic machine gun.

“Today’s decision to reject that ordinary understanding will have deadly consequences,” Sotomayor wrote. “The majority’s artificially narrow definition hamstrings the government’s efforts to keep machine guns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter.” And when the next Las Vegas happens, it will not be enough to blame it on the madness of a single deranged individual. There are so many others.

David Firestone, a former reporter and editor for the Washington bureau and the Metropolitan and National desks of The Times, is a member of the editorial board.

Breaking coverage:

Get InvolvedEverytown For Gun Safety

Previously on the BenIndy:

Sanders hits back at Netanyahu: ‘It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable’

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw – I was a student protester during the anti-Vietnam-war movement, a young professional during the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S., and a protester here in Benicia against George W. Bush’s trumped up war against Iraq. War is almost NEVER a way to peace. Will Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza and the failure of Israel’s government to move toward a two-state solution generate the next massive peace movement here and around the world? Maybe so, maybe rightly so. Bernie Sanders made a good point this week, defending activists against charges of antisemitism – see below. The world is crying out for innocents in Gaza who are starving and whose homes, hospitals and cities are in ruins. The death count is now over 34,000! The United States MUST stand up to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I would encourage all of us to join in the widespread call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. Yes, of course the hostages must be freed. And yes, Bibi, I am not an anti-Semite. – Roger]

US senator says Israeli prime minister is using antisemitism to distract attention from ‘extremist and racist government’ policies

Bernie Sanders speaks with reporters on 23 April 2024. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The Guardian, by Robert Tait, 27 Apr 2024

Bernie Sanders has hit back fiercely at Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israeli prime minister’s claim that US universities were being overrun by antisemitism on a scale comparable to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

In a video posted on X, the progressive senator from Vermont – who is Jewish – accused Netanyahu of “insult[ing] the intelligence of the American people” by using antisemitism to distract attention from the policies of his “extremist and racist government” in the military offensive in Gaza.

“No Mr Netanyahu, it is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that, in a little over six months, your extremist government has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 78,000, 70% of whom are women and children,” Sanders said.

The two-and-a-half minute video listed a catalogue of further consequences of the war in the Palestinian coastal territory, including the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, universities and schools, along with the killing of more than 400 health workers.

Sanders, who sponsored an unsuccessful Senate bill in January to make US aid to Israel conditional on its observance of human rights and international law, said Netanyahu’s government had unreasonably blocked humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza, causing “thousands of children [to] face malnutrition and famine”.

In a blistering conclusion, he said: “Mr Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people.

“But please, do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal policies of your extremist and racist government. … It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your actions.”

Mr. Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to millions.

Do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government.

Sanders’ comments were a riposte to a video posted on social media by Netanyahu in which he waded in to protests sweeping American university campuses and claimed not enough was being done to combat a “horrific” rise in antisemitism.

“Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities,” Netanyahu said. “They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty. This is reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s.

“It has to be stopped. It has to be condemned and condemned unequivocally, but that’s not what happened. The response of several university presidents was shameful. Now fortunately, state, federal and local officials, many of them, have responded differently. But there has to be more.”

Netanyahu’s comments came against the backdrop of police deployments to break up pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University and numerous other US campuses. In some universities, faculty members have been arrested, including the chair of the philosophy department and a professor of English and Indigenous studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Jewish students have reported feeling threatened by the protests and heated atmosphere that followed Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of more than 200 others.

Videos posted on social media have depicted anti-Israel protesters shouting “go back to Poland” and “go back to Belarus”, apparently at Jewish students. A congressional hearing earlier in April into a reported upsurge of antisemitism at Columbia heard allegations that Jewish students had been subjected to taunts of “F the Jews”.

Last October’s attack triggered an overwhelming and continuing Israeli military response that has so far killed more than 34,000 Palestinians – according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza – and led to a burgeoning humanitarian disaster, accompanied by accusations that Israel is committing “genocide”.

In his video, Netanyahu said Israel was being “falsely accused” of genocide and called it part of an “antisemitic surge”.

“Israel tries to defend itself against genocidal terrorists who hide behind civilians,” he said. “Yet it is Israel that is falsely accused of genocide. Israel that is falsely accused of starvation and sundry war crimes. It’s all one big libel.

“But that’s not new. We’ve seen in history that antisemitic attacks were always preceded by vilification and slander.”

The Joe Biden White House, while resisting pressure to condition or limit weapon supplies to Israel, has voiced frustration over its resistance to allowing more humanitarian aid freely into Gaza and roundly criticised the recent strikes that killed seven workers from celebrity chef Jose Andres’s World Central Kitchen charity.

Protests on campuses across the US continued on Saturday, with some protesting student bodies and universities locked in a standoff that saw demonstrators vowing to keep their movements going at the same time as college authorities moved to close down the encampments.

Police in riot gear cleared protest tents on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston, while students shouted and jeered at them, the Associated Press reported. The university said the protest had been “infiltrated by professional organisers” with no connection to the institution, while some demonstrators had used antisemitic slurs.

The picture of campus antisemitism run amok was lent further credence by Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president and ex-US treasury secretary, who accused authorities at his former university of failing to act decisively against protesters occupying Harvard Yard.

“This is the predictable culmination of the Harvard Corporation’s failure to effectively address issues of prejudice and breakdowns of order on our campus,” he posted on X. “There can be no question that Harvard is practicing an ongoing double standard on discrimination between racism, misogyny and antisemitism.”

His comments provoked a sharp response from critics of Israel. “Your efforts to portray student demonstrators challenging Israel’s genocidal actions as ‘antisemitic’ are cheap & disingenuous,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn). “These students should be commended for their courage & compassion, risking suspension & smears (like yours), to fight the most heinous crimes underway in Gaza.”

See earlier posts about the Israeli/Hamas war on BenIndy:

30th Anniversary of Free Elections in South Africa

Invitation to remember and celebrate in Benicia on Sunday, April 28

[Contribution by Rev. Dr. Mary Susan Gast of Benicia]

Many of us were involved in anti-apartheid work, especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Thirty years ago this Saturday the new flag of national unity first flew over South Africa, and the first elections open to all races brought in a new era for South Africa—as well as a triumph of democracy in which the whole world could rejoice and be heartened. As we face into this crucial election year in the U.S. it’s good to remember the power of the vote and the power of the people.

On Sunday, April 28, I will be delivering a sermon/message in celebration of South Africa Freedom Day, recounting my experience as a peace monitor at the South Africa elections in 1994 and offering my reflections. You would be more than welcome to attend: 10 a.m. at Community Congregational Church, UCC, 1305 West 2nd St., Benicia.

Mary Susan Gast

More on Community Congregational UCC –

How COVID deaths compare to the past – In the last six months, California saw 3,472 deaths

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: This article paints a somewhat encouraging picture, comparing the number of current COVID deaths to those during the first 6 months of the pandemic. The good news is that there are far fewer deaths overall, but it stresses the proportionately higher rate of deaths among the elderly. Startling fact at the end – “the two youngest age groups are the only ones that saw more deaths in the past six months than early in the pandemic.” Take care of your young’uns! – R.S.]

Who’s dying now? Here’s how recent COVID deaths compare to the early months of the pandemic in California

In the last six months California saw 3,472 deaths, a fraction of the number that died in the first six months

Vallejo Times-Herald, by By Harriet Rowan, Bay Area News Group, April 16, 2024

Four years after the start of the COVID pandemic, the age and race of its victims in California have dramatically shifted: Now, a Bay Area News Group analysis finds, those who are dying from the virus are much older, and more often white than Latino, a notable switch.

While COVID deaths in California have plunged across all race and age groups, a comparison of deaths from the first six months of the pandemic to the most recent six months of data compiled by the California Department of Public Health shows 70% of those dying nowadays are 75 or older — up from just over half in early 2020.

And while Latinos made up nearly half of all Californians killed by COVID in the first six months of the pandemic, white residents now account for nearly 60% of all deaths.

The changing demographics and plummeting overall death toll exhibit how Californians built up immunity to the virus, experts say, through exposures and vaccines, and which groups are now the most vulnerable to the worst outcomes.

After four years of living with the virus, life is largely back to pre-pandemic normal. But when the virus first shut down our lives in 2020, face masks and working from home were foreign concepts to most. And while the speed of developing the first COVD vaccines was unprecedented in science, it took until early 2021 — the heart of the pandemic’s deadliest wave — for the public to get immunized. While COVID’s risk has certainly diminished, how much has its deadly wake actually changed in that time?

First, the virus is much less deadly. In the most recent six months for which data is available, from Sept. 1, 2023, through Feb. 29, 2024, there were 3,472 deaths attributed to the virus in California. But in the first six months of the pandemic, Feb. 1 through Aug. 31, 2020, more than four times that number of Californians died from COVID — 14,648.

“Wow, we are doing so much better than we were,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, his first reaction when looking at the data.

The total number of people dying has dropped across the board in nearly every category. More people over 85 died in the first six months of the pandemic, 4,209, than the number of deaths across all age groups in the past six months.

Second, your age is a factor. While older people have always been more vulnerable, they account for an even higher proportion of COVID deaths now.

The proportion of all COVID deaths among those 85 and older has grown from 29% to 42%. But that doesn’t mean the virus is deadlier for our elders: In the first six months of the pandemic, there were three times more deaths from the virus in that 85-and-older age group than there were in the most recent six-month period.

However small the number, there is one statistical peculiarity: The two youngest age groups are the only ones that saw more deaths in the past six months than early in the pandemic.

No deaths were reported among children younger than 14 in the Golden State through Aug. 31, 2020, but three young children have died from COVID, including two children under 5, in the last six months.

While deaths have become more concentrated among older Californians, another factor has changed dramatically: the racial breakdown of the people dying.

Early in the pandemic, “Blacks and Latinos struggled much more … in terms of mortality rates than any other population, primarily compared to Asian and White populations,” Swartzberg noted. “But that has flipped.”

The percentage of Californians who died who are White has nearly doubled, from 30% to 60% of all COVID deaths, from 4,332 deaths through August 2020, to 2,065 deaths in the most recent period. White people make up 37% of the state’s residents.

Moving in the other direction, the proportion of Latino deaths among those who died from COVID has shrunk from 49% of the first six months to just 20% of recent deaths. Latino people make up 39% of the state’s residents.

California’s Latino population is younger and therefore less at risk, Swartzberg said.

And he has some more educated guesses as to why the early pandemic death trends among racial groups have flipped so dramatically: In the first years of the pandemic, many Black and Latino communities were not getting vaccinated as quickly as their White counterparts, a combination of lack of access and insufficient outreach, but that has changed as the pandemic has evolved.

November 2023 poll by KFF, a nonprofit health care research foundation, found a slightly higher percentage of Black and Hispanic adults reported getting an updated vaccine, compared to 19% of White adults. And the gap grew when adding those who planned on getting the new vaccine but hadn’t yet, 59% of Black and Hispanic adults and just 42% of White adults. The poll also found White adults were less likely to take precautions against catching and spreading the virus during this past holiday season.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF professor of medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, also points to political influence on vaccine uptake as “one of the most compelling trends.”

The KFF poll found Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to say they had already gotten the updated vaccine, while 55% of Republicans said they would “definitely not get” the new vaccine compared to 12% of Democrats and 40% of independents.

“In the beginning, none of this was political … we were all in this together,” said Chin-Hong. “The differential in mortality was based on structural racism and lack of access, underlying medical problems. But then it became a very polarizing issue, like everything regarding COVID.”

More COVID on the Benicia Independent…