Self-Defense and the Law

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

If you find yourself under attack, and you successfully protect yourself, what is the worst that can happen?

Steven Levine: The worst that can happen is that you go to prison for the rest of your life, especially if you kill somebody. In California, even if you have a valid self-defense claim, the DA’s office will typically still file charges on you. I recently had a client, a 50-year-old nurse, who was in her own home when her ex-boyfriend (for 26 years) came over. He’d moved out 7 months earlier. There was a small history of domestic violence. But in fact, he had recently assaulted their 22-year-old daughter by head-butting her. While they were discussing things downstairs in the living room, he picked up a sledgehammer. She grew worried, told him to leave, and retreated upstairs. He put down the hammer but followed her upstairs and told her he did not have to leave. Once upstairs, he was yelling at her. Finally, she grabbed her gun. She’s a cancer survivor. She’s had a double mastectomy. She’s half his size, and she told him to leave. He went for the gun, and she shot him. The bullet went through his rib cage and he died. She tried to save him by doing CPR.

The jury convicted her of murder despite the fact that she said that she was scared for her life. Again, the general principle is correct as far as the law is concerned: You can defend yourself as long as you’re scared of great bodily injury — and that’s not such a high standard. Great bodily injury could be pretty much anything. I was just at a preliminary hearing the other day where the complaining witness had been hit and received two bruises under the eye. This qualified as great bodily injury. But you have to realize there are standards that apply to the cops and to prosecutors, and there are standards that apply to ordinary defendants.

Most people do not succeed with self-defense claims in California, Levine says — but that’s not the whole story:

Rory Miller: In my experience, most of the people who claimed self-defense had been involved in a mutual fight and were rationalizing it as self-defense. One exception was a man who had shot two notorious dealers who broke into his home. When I got the story from him, he left out the part where he had robbed these guys at gunpoint a few hours earlier.

Some cases are unambiguous though:

Sam Harris: Steve, how do things change if a person is attempting to rob me? I haven’t been assaulted — but the other person is implicitly threatening me with the prospect of violence by saying that if I comply with his instructions, I won’t get hurt.

Steven Levine: If you’re being robbed, you can just kill the other person.

Sam Harris: Are you kidding?

Steven Levine: If you’re being robbed, you can take out your gun and shoot the person dead, and no one will prosecute you.

Sam Harris: There’s no requirement to drop your wallet and run, in the hopes of avoiding violence?

Steven Levine: None at all.

Sam Harris: Huh…

Steven Levine: The difference is, it’s clear: You are the victim of a crime. And people know that robberies often result in death.

Sam Harris: But are you assuming that the other person is armed?

Steven Levine: I don’t care if he’s just got his finger under his shirt.

Sam Harris: That is just… bizarre…. Let’s assume I can safely retreat, but I happen to be worried about other people in the area. Can I defend these people as I would myself?

Steven Levine: The defense of others is basically just an extension of your own right to self-defense, meaning that these people had better be in imminent danger of harm.

Sam Harris: So, I’m in a liquor store, and a man walks in and pulls out a gun and tells everyone to get down on the floor. As it happens, I’m standing near the door and can just run away. But I also have a gun — let’s leave aside the fact that we’re in California, and I shouldn’t have a gun on me in the first place. Can I legally shoot this person in the back of the head?

Steven Levine: Yes. Once somebody is engaged in felonious conduct, you can do whatever you do to stop him.

Sam Harris: I just find this astonishing — given the legal ambiguities that loom everywhere else. Threats of violence, or even an actual assault, seem open to endless caviling, but someone saying “Give me your wallet” magically clarifies everything and opens the door to lethal force.

[...]

Sam Harris: Steve, one final question: I know things get much clearer when we’re talking about home defense—leaving aside the case you mentioned at the beginning of the woman who shot her ex-boyfriend. If you confront a stranger in your home—a person who has no conceivable right to be there—the case for self-defense is much clearer, correct?

Steven Levine: Yes. If a stranger comes into your home, and you think he’s about to commit a felony against you, even if he is unarmed, you can shoot him.

Sam Harris: And that’s every bit as clear as it is for robbery?

Steven Levine: Yes, because it’s your home. Legally speaking, you don’t even have to warn the other person. I should say, however, that guns generally cause more problems than they’re worth. As an attorney, you don’t see that many good cases, and you see lots of bad ones. Kids get their hands on them, or criminals do. There are people who simply shouldn’t own guns. I’m speaking as a defense attorney who was a prosecutor for 13 years.

Sam Harris: No doubt. A person can talk about the Second Amendment all he wants, but keeping a gun in one’s home is a huge responsibility—which millions of people take far too lightly. And many people seem to believe that if you keep a gun for the purpose of home defense, there’s no way to store it safely and still have it available in an emergency. But the truth is that a gun stored in a combination safe or lockbox can be accessed nearly as quickly as one that is sitting unsecured in a drawer. We’re talking about a difference of less than a second. Anyone who buys a gun has a responsibility to get enough training to become truly competent with it. Otherwise, a person shouldn’t own a gun.

Uncle Leland

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Uncle Leland is quite a character:

Yee emigrated from China’s Guangdong province as a toddler, grew up in San Francisco and earned a doctorate in child psychology. His political career began in 1986, first on the San Francisco school board, then the city’s board of supervisors, the state Assembly and, in 2006, the Senate.

Over the years, he burnished an image of a good-government advocate, crusading for gun control, government transparency and campaign finance reform. In 2012, the California Clean Money Action Fund named him a Clean Money Champion. His penchant for biting, no-B.S. quotes made him a media darling. Less than a week before his arrest, the Society of Professional Journalists honored him for confronting the governor and his own party on behalf of open public records.

Yet Yee also had a reputation for pushing some ethical boundaries.

While on the school board, he was caught registering his children under a fake address so they could be enrolled in better public schools. On a Hawaii vacation, he was arrested for shoplifting suntan lotion. Twice, San Francisco police stopped him on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes in the city’s Mission District. In each case, he denied wrongdoing.

Gun Crimes Down, Public Unaware

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Firearm violence receives national attention, despite the fact that it has fallen by half from its peak two decades ago:

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

Crime Rates from 1993

Homicide Rates by Genetic versus Stepfathers

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Homicide rates by genetic versus stepfathers and by age of child for Canada, reprinted from Daly and Wilson (1996):

Homicide Rates by Genetic vs. Stepfathers

The Weapons in the Leland Yee Scandal

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Not many FBI documents read like crime thrillers, but the FBI’s case against California State Senator Leland Yee and the Chee Kung Tong does:

The FBI accuses 54-year-old Kwok Sheung Chow of leading the Chee Kung Tong (CKT) criminal group. (The bureau tapped the ceremony swearing him in as the Dragonhead of the group.) The criminal complaint paints him as a leader who wants his organization to be seen as legit, but who keeps a direct hand in some of the felonious operations that ensnared other CKT-affiliated players, including State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a gun control advocate caught on FBI recordings brokering arms deals and accepting money to pass legislation. Chow is the person who introduced Keith Jackson, the senator’s political operative, to the undercover FBI agents.

In July 2010, when the investigation was new, UCE 4599 had dinner with Chow, who used the venue to discuss his days as a street gangster. “Chow described how he like to carry two 9mm and a .45 caliber [pistols],” the affidavit reads. “Chow described that a .22 caliber is an assassin’s gun, but he liked carrying something that had real power and would stop someone if you had to use it on the street.”

In March 2012, the undercover agent was “inducted” into the Chee Kung Tong as a “consultant.” After that, the investigation into California crime and corruption really took off.

On March 11, 2014, Yee met with political consultant Keith Jackson (more on him soon) and Wilson Lim, who claimed to have a relative in the Philippines military who could steal weapons and was supposedly selling the military gear to Islamic rebels in Mindanao. An FBI undercover employee (UCE 4599) also in attendance asked Lim what kinds of weapons he could get. “Lim told UCE 4599 the Israeli-made Tavor assault rifle was very common in the Philippines,” the affidavit says. “Lim described the Tavor as being the equivalent of the M16 assault rifle.”

[...]

The idea at this meeting was to buy rifles from the Philippines and ship them to the United States through New Jersey (where the undercover agent claimed to have Mafia connections at the Port of Newark) before sending them to final customers in North Africa. “Senator Yee told UCE 4599 there are approximately 100 rifles currently available,” the court document says, and that Yee said “he thought Africa was largely an untapped market for trade” of weapons. The profits would be broken into smaller pieces and funneled into his election campaign. If he had lost that election, he would “move into the private sector and exploit all the relationships he had in Asia for various kinds of activities,” according to the criminal complaint.

[...]

Of all the strange people in the FBI document, the Jackson family may be the strangest. Keith Jackson operates a political consultancy that raised campaign funds for Yee. He also is implicated in scores of money laundering deals, high-volume drug transactions, bribes, cigarette and booze smuggling, international arms deals, and local weapons sales. Plus, he has been linked to murder-for-hire schemes; he told undercover agents that he and his son, accused drug smuggler Brandon, could hire thugs to kill people.

These are political consultants with access to a slew of firearms. In one transaction alone, on June 24, 2013, the father-and-son team sold UCE 4599 five weapons for $5300. One of them was a Cobray Machine Pistol, a compact fully automatic 9mm weapon with a 50-round magazine. The other guns: a Mossberg shotgun, a Smith & Wesson Model 59 handgun, A Colt MKIV 80 handgun, a .22 Ruger carbine, and a 7.62mm Clayco Sports Rifle. Also, intriguingly, they sold the undercover agent two ballistic vests. When UCE 4599 checked, he found the protective vest was stolen from the FBI.

Jackson Consultancy appears to be always campaigning for the candidate’s war chest. During the June 24 weapons buy, “Keith Jackson told UCE 4599 that he was hoping UCE 4599 could raise more money for Senator Yee.”

Leland Yee, Super Villain

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Democrat state senator Leland Yee isn’t just corrupt, Larry Correia (Monster Hunter International) says:

If Yee had a machine that could control the weather he’d be a Batman villain.

He got busted in an FBI sting, taking millions of dollars in bribes, to smuggle RPGs and machine guns through brutal Chinese tong gangs, through the Ukraine, to rebel insurgents in the Philippines. No. I’m not making any of that up.

The part that makes this all so awesome and hilarious is that the only reason people like me know who Yee is, is because he’s the primary asshole behind disarming law abiding Californians. Yes. He is the anti-gun poster child. He has an A+ from the Brady Center morons. (Hmmm… Now that he’s been caught smuggling rocket launchers to Muslim rebels, but he’s still a democrat, they might downgrade him to a B).

So, regular Californians can’t own an AR-15, but Chinese drug lords, no problemo. Law abiding citizen protected by the 2nd Amendment, go to hell. Murderous scumbag criminals, good to hook. This plan seems to work for Eric Holder too.

The other part that makes this funny as hell is that he is also the anti violent video game guy… Yee is the crusading liberal who has been out there trying to get violent video games banned. Because won’t somebody think of the children!

Let that sink in for a delicious moment.

Grand Theft Auto? Hell, he doesn’t need to play it. Leland Yee LIVES Grand Theft Auto. If only he hadn’t been exposed to Call of Duty, then he wouldn’t have been so tempted to smuggle machineguns to MILF. And yes. The rebels were actually called MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) So when you hear that a Green Beret bagged a MILF, it really could go either way.

Of course you probably haven’t seen too much of this on the regular news, because Yee is a democrat, and thus his scandal is totally not newsworthy. I saw a thing where Yee’s bust had gotten a grand total of like 30 seconds of coverage on CNN, in between long reports of how Chris Christie may possibly have blocked traffic.

Think about that. Sure, I know that CNN is basically the marketing department of the DNC, but this story has everything. It is implausible. It is ridiculous. It is Breaking Bad only more absurd. His Chinese mafia contact was named Shrimp Boy Chow! How the hell can you not report on a respected elected official making millions of dollars from rebels MILFs and a mob boss actually named SHRIMP BOY CHOW!

Shots fired, large fights at Kansas City Zoo

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Kansas City leaders are looking at changes to the zoo’s free admission days for residents of Jackson and Clay counties after large fights broke out and shots were fired at the Kansas City Zoo:

Mayor Sly James emphatically said Wednesday that “we had young people who were misbehaving badly.” However, he does not believe violence at the Country Club Plaza involving large groups of youth and Tuesday’s violence at the Kansas City Zoo are connected, saying they are isolated incidents.

“It’s not my job to take separate incidents that happened in one part of town and one that happened in another part of town for purposes of trying to create something else.Those are separate incidents. They weren’t the same people involved. It wasn’t the same place or the same time or circumstances,” he said.

However, some of innocent patrons caught up in the violence say they believe the Plaza violence and Tuesday’s violence at the zoo are connected and the city must do more to ensure families can be safe when going to Kansas City’s top attractions.

Residents of Jackson and Clay counties could get into free to the zoo on Tuesday because of voter support for a zoo tax. The day coincided with mild weather and spring break for many area districts.

[...]

Marc Hoefer was at the zoo with his wife, and 11 and 8-year-old children. An 11-year-old friend joined them.

“It was crowded. It was a different crowd. There was not a lot of courtesy. It was very packed and very tense,” he said. “There was a strong police presence. There were a lot of pockets of youth. You could see there was a lot of tension. I didn’t expect to walk about and see what I saw, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Nothing to see here. Move along. These were two totally different sets of youths misbehaving at different locations.

Medically and Psychologically Ruinous

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Working as a police officer is medically and psychologically ruinous:

When he was starting out, Brian says he wasn’t warned of how the career could do such damage. In 2012, an unprecedented study of 464 police officers, published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health linked officers’ stress with increased levels of sleep disorders, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and suicide.

Other studies have found that between 7 and 19 percent of active duty police have PTSD, while MRIs of police officers’ brains have found a connection between experiencing trauma and a reduction in areas that play roles in emotional and cognitive decision-making, memory, fear, and stress regulation.

In squad rooms full of cops, Brian would compare blood pressure meds with his colleagues. Most, if not all, of the police he knew with more than 10 years of service were dealing some kind of medical or psychological issue.

At night, Brian would hide his drinking from his wife. He went from sipping whiskey, to downing cheap 100-proof vodka.

“You see nothing but bodies, I swear, dead people,” he said. “Car accidents, hangings, suicides, murders, SIDS deaths.” He remembered a diabetic who killed himself by overdosing on chocolate. And then there was the conversation with a tongue-pierced meth user with an enlarged heart who had told Brian, “I’m white trash until the day I die.” He assaulted people in a parking lot and died in custody after deputies restrained him. The next day, Brian found himself close to fainting after viewing the autopsy photos of the same kid’s esophagus, and pierced tongue.

“I was so angry at this one woman for dying, that I yelled at her,” he said. “I just didn’t want to see another dead body…I should have recognized at that point, it’s time for me to back up.”

Active Shooter Events

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The FBI’s report on Active Shooter Events from 2000 to 2012 notes that private citizens stopped one in six mass shootings:

Note that for the purposes of the study, the average police response time was about 3 minutes. Out of 104 incidents, they had the following resolution:

  • 49% of events stopped before the police could arrive
  • 42% of events (44 total) resulted in the killer committing suicide, of which 29 killers committed suicide prior to police arrival.
  • 43% of events (45 total) result in the attacker being stopped with force, either by civilians or law enforcement.
  • When civilians intervene before LE arrives, they stop 33% of mass shootings.
  • Slightly less than 3% of mass shootings are stopped by armed civilians shooting the attacker.

Mexican Criminal Organizations

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Because there are so many big Mexican criminal organizations — at least 11 major ones — their situation is unusual:

The original cartels were in geographically distinct areas — the Gulf cartel along the south-east Texas border; the Sonora cartel on the Arizona border; the Arrelano Felix organization in Baja California; the Sinoloa cartel on the major port cities on the Pacific side such as Mazatlan. They were cartels in the true sense, dividing up non-competing territories. More recently they stopped being cartels, as they have invaded each other’s territory. The name “cartel” serves as a term of convenience, but it is inaccurate. To call them “drug cartels” involved in a “drug war” is doubly inaccurate. Popular terms are impossible to eradicate, but they hide reality. Mexican crime-orgs are less like rival businesses than rival warrior states of the pre-modern era.

Over time, the situation of territorial cartels developed into multi-sided wars. This came about by a combination of political processes.

Because there are so many players, various alliances were possible. When any one crime organization attempted territorial expansion, counter-alliances were created. Some organizations sent expeditionary forces — military aid — to their allies, thereby also expanding their territorial reach, and provoking further defensive reactions. Alliances could change when the host organization felt threatened by the outsiders and made new alliances to throw them out.

A defeat in war, or arrests by the government, would result in a power vacuum. When one organization was weakened, outsiders could move into their territory; or a split would occur within the organization, creating a power struggle among new factions that might crystallize into separate organizations if there were no clear-cut winner. Thus a multi-sided struggle became even more multi-sided as time went on.

Examples: this happened as the Arellano Felix Organization in Baja California split when its older leaders were arrested; when the Sinaloa cartel was split by the Beltrán Leyva brothers; and when Los Zetas broke from the Gulf Cartel. The government acts as a complicating factor in the multi-sided situation, bringing the total number of players to 12 or more, depending on how many independent factions there are in the Mexican government. Above all, government strategy of decapitating the most prominent cartels kept stirring the mix; far from destroying organizations, it kept creating new opportunities for local factions and rival cartels to expand.

These multi-sided conflicts and repeated power vacuums push cartel members into switching sides. Such switches of allegiance are typical in multi-sided geopolitics; the history of European diplomacy is full of them, with the English, French, Germans, Russians and others switching between friends and enemies numerous times over the centuries. The Zetas have been the most aggressively opportunistic. They began as elite airmobile Special Forces set up by the Mexican government distrustful of their own regular military and police. Their very isolation made them amenable to being recruited as bodyguards by one of the quarreling leaders of the Gulf cartel in the early 2000s. Within a few years, as the Gulf cartel was weakened by the government offensive, the Zetas broke free of their underground employers and became another crime-org in its own right. This disloyalty is typical of what happens to paramilitary forces set up by governments outside of normal bureaucratic channels — for instance in Africa and the Middle East [Schlichte 2009]. Not only are the Zetas not a cartel in the technical sense, but they lack a distinctive territorial base — being tied neither to particular drug routes nor local roots. They have expanded into anywhere in Mexico where there has been the hint of a power vacuum.

Similarly, vigilante groups set up to keep out intruders or punish criminals the weak state cannot touch, themselves can turn into crime organizations. This has been the pathway of La Familia in Michoacan (far from the major drug routes, but including the Pacific port nearest to Mexico City). It started as a religiously-based rehabilitation movement for drug addicts (not unlike the Synanon movement in California during the 1960s and 70s, which evolved from a group psychotherapy drug cure into a religious cult and eventually into a violent organization). La Famiglia Michoacana (which means “the Michoacan family”) gradually shifted from a local self-protection group, defending the region against incursions by the Zetas and others, into the business of protection/extortion and eventually into drug dealing itself. Local loyalties have remained especially strong, since La Famiglia not only maintained its public image as a protector but siphoned its criminal income back into supporting local churches and institutions. The pattern resembles the Latin American tradition of a populist revolutionary movement gone corrupt.

We now have a structural mechanism to explain a distinctive feature of the Mexican cartel wars: spectacular public violence. These are not just killings but tortures and beheadings; displaying corpses — or parts of them — in public places; leaving notes on the bodies giving warnings, insults, or explanations.

This raises a technical question in the sociology of violence. In order to torture and mutilate someone, it is necessary to capture them first. This is difficult to do. Many kinds of criminal organizations are unable to do this. American street gangs do not engage in torture and mutilation of their enemies, because their style of violence is brief confrontations or drive-by shootings. Street gangs have narrow territorial boundaries, and lack information about what happens outside their turf.

To capture an enemy requires stealth and planning; this requires information, and therefore informants. A high level of information is displayed also in extortion threats; for instance phone calls to victims telling them details of their families’ daily routines.

The structural situation of multi-sided conflicts produces much switching of sides; and this generates useful informants with information about enemies’ routines. Internal splits in an organization also creates informants, since whoever leaves one faction can tell the other details about the routines of those they have left.

The situation worsens. As the cycle of defeats and victories, power vacuums, and side-switching goes on, informants themselves are targeted. Informants are the most important weakness for an organization, therefore it tries to deter informants by using spectacular punishments — more tortures and beheadings.

Public violence has a second purpose: it can be used to send propaganda. Messages attached to bodies can proclaim that it is done to protect the local communities against terrorists, drug cartels, and criminals — as in the propaganda of La Familia Michoacana. This is propaganda to create local legitimacy. Or propaganda of violence can be used to intimidate possible enemies. But the intimidation is usually not definitive, since in a situation of multi-sided instability, side-switching inevitably happens and the cycle of spectacular violence continues.

What can we predict, using our comparisons among the political structures of crime organizations?

First: drug business is not the key determinant of what they will do. Drugs provide one source of income, and the variety of drug routes provides bases on which some — but not all — of the cartels originated. But the main resource of a crime-org is how much violence it can muster, and that depends on its political reach and strength of organizational control. Once the military/political structure exists, it can be turned to different kinds of criminal businesses, whether these involve running a drug business (or any other illegal business); or merely raking off protection money from those who run an illegal business; or extorting protection money from ordinary citizens, including kidnapping. A crime-org might start out in the drug business and shift its activities elsewhere, or vice versa. Randolfo Contreras has shown that in the 1990s when the crack cocaine business dried up in the Bronx, former street dealers went into other areas of crime. In Mexico, when increased border surveillance cut into drug deliveries to the US, crime-orgs expanded into extortion and kidnapping for ransom. The Zetas, because of their organization as Special Forces, were less directly connected with the drug business itself; when they became independent of the declining Gulf cartel, they have moved aggressively into more purely predatory use of violence against other cartels’ territories. This is not so much an effort to monopolize the drug trafficking business, as a different political strategy, leveraging their special skill, highly trained military violence.

It follows that ending the illegal drug business — whether by eradication or by legalization — would not automatically end violence. Mexican crime-orgs could intensify other types of violent extortion (and so they have, with increased pressure on the US border), as along as they still held territories out of government control; and wars between the cartels would not cease. It is a non sequitur to argue that if the US would stop drug consumption, Mexican cartels and their violence would disappear.

A second prediction comes from historical similarities. The Mexican situation from 2000 onwards resembles the Sicilian Mafia wars that took place from the 1960s through the 1980s. The Sicilian mafias also engaged in corruption of local governments, and a system of protection/extortion covering all economic activities. Surveillance was provided by a large network of informants; and spectacular violence was used when mafiosi were challenged. As in Mexico, there were a large number of Sicilian Mafia families. The wars were multi-sided, both among the different mafia coalitions, and against the Italian national government.

The situation in Sicily was precisely what the US Mafia had organized the Commission to avoid: lengthy civil wars; public violence; and attacks on government officials. After the fall of the crime regime in 1920s Chicago headed by Al Capone — who was too blatantly public about his political control, and his drive-by machine guns in the street — the New York mafia ruled by secrecy. There was no effective Peace Commission in Sicily, no centralized organization by which the top Mafia bosses exercised selective violence to keep discipline inside the organization.

The Prognosis: The Italian government won the Sicilian Mafia war; as their local war escalated into attacks on officials of the national government, the government counter-escalated until the Mafia was largely destroyed. Mexico could go the same path. It would be a long war, but winnable — it took 20-30 years for the national government to reassert control in Sicily.

An alternative pathway could be a change in government policy. Since the PAN administration of President Calderón took office in 2006, the policy has been to pursue all-out war against all the crime organizations, resulting in at least 50,000 persons killed through 2011, with the yearly number rising to 15,000. It is possible that an electoral victory by PRI, the long-time former ruling party known for its history of corruption, would result in a new policy of accommodation. Some of the more stable and least expansive cartels would be given tacit recognition in their region, while the more aggressive and territorially expansive groups — above all the Zetas — would be targeted for extermination. The result might be something like the fate of the Russian mafia of the 1990s: ending their mutual turf wars, reducing conflict among themselves, and finding acceptance by corrupt government officials sharing in their wealth. In the case of Russia, the whole process was finished in about 10 years. Given that the intense cartel wars in Mexico so far have gone on about 5 years, the Russian example suggests a decline in violence in a few years might be feasible.

Shadowy World of Hitmen

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

British researchers have turned their eyes toward the shadowy world of hitmen:

“Hitmen are familiar figures in films and video games, carrying out ‘hits’ in underworld bars or from the roof tops with expensive sniper rifles,” said Professor David Wilson from Birmingham City University’s Centre for Applied Criminology. “The reality could not be more different. British hitmen are more likely to murder their victim while they walk the dog or go shopping in suburban neighborhoods.”

The team analyzed newspaper articles from an electronic archive of national and local papers from across Britain, using the reports to piece together a list of cases which could be defined as contract killings. The final list comprised of 27 contract killings, committed by 35 hitmen, and one hitwoman, active on the British mainland from 1974 to 2013.

“Using court transcripts and off-the-record interviews with ex-offenders we were able to identify recurring traits and patterns of behaviors amongst British hitmen,” said Professor Wilson. “We explored demographic data about the contract killers, who the targets had been, how they had been murdered, if the killer had been caught, if the killer was already known to the police, and how much they had been paid to carry out the hit.”

While the age of hitmen ranged from 15 to 63, the average age of a British contract killer was 38, while the average age of their victim was 36. Guns were the most common murder weapon of choice, accounting for 25 of the 35 victims.

The cost of ordered murder in Britain was also found to vary considerably, with the average cost standing at £15,180. The lowest fee in the sample was a mere £200, in contrast to the highest fee of £100,000.

Far from being carried out in smoky underworld clubs, the majority of hits took place in suburban neighborhoods, often as the victim was walking their dog or going shopping. Often the hitman and their victim lived in the same area, which is one of the most common reasons behind their eventual arrest.

Contract killings are overwhelmingly likely to be carried out by men. The only female hitwoman to be identified was Te Rangimaria Ngarimu, a 27-year-old Maori who was found guilty of being paid £7,000 to murder her victim in 1992.

[...]

“The motivations to pay a hitman the relatively small amount to carry out a murder were often depressingly banal. Spouses fell out, business deals fell apart, and young gang members wanted to impress their elders,” concluded Professor Wilson. “The reality of British hitmen stands in strong contrast to the fiction and we hope these profiles will help the police to identify patterns and behavioral traits common to contract killers in Britain.”

They have quite a problem with selection bias though, since “master” hitmen are unlikely to get caught — or even to commit their crime in an obvious way.

The Prison Budget

Monday, February 24th, 2014

As the prison population has swelled, so has the prison budget:

In 1980, the U.S. spent $6.9 billion a year on its prison system; today, it is $80 billion. If you include the entire system of mass incarceration — judicial, legal, police — we spend an estimated $260 billion per year on on so-called corrections.

The costs of incarceration on an individual scale range from $21,000 a year (in a federal, minimum security prison) to a little more than $47,000 per year in California.

Unrealistic Murders

Monday, February 17th, 2014

I’ve never seen the hit UK TV show Midsomer Murders, but a recent NHS study has found that it portrays homicide unrealistically — which concerns the psychologists leading the study, because it could be affecting public health messages:

“The typical fictional homicide is part of a planned series committed by a middle-aged white man or woman who is not intoxicated, sometimes using a bizarre weapon. In contrast, real homicides were almost all single, and were usually carried out by often intoxicated younger men from a more diverse ethnic origin, in an unplanned attack using a kitchen knife. They were also more likely to have a diagnosed mental disorder.”

Steve Sailer has made the same point about American crime dramas.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the first comment on the Independent‘s site:

To be honest, I would rather they had focussed their attention on our right wing politics and their hate campaigns against the poor and disabled…now that is an area where we see a lot harm being caused, not only by the measures they introduce, but also the likes of Benefit Sttreet and the Daily Mail who just love to hate. They need their fix of hatred every day…influencing society at large to hate.

The Coming Anarchy

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Robert Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy appeared in The Atlantic 20 years ago. Now he notes that the anarchy unleashed in the Arab world has other roots not adequately dealt with in his original article:

The End of Imperialism. That’s right. Imperialism provided much of Africa, Asia and Latin America with security and administrative order. The Europeans divided the planet into a gridwork of entities — both artificial and not — and governed. It may not have been fair, and it may not have been altogether civil, but it provided order. Imperialism, the mainstay of stability for human populations for thousands of years, is now gone.

The End of Post-Colonial Strongmen. Colonialism did not end completely with the departure of European colonialists. It continued for decades in the guise of strong dictators, who had inherited state systems from the colonialists. Because these strongmen often saw themselves as anti-Western freedom fighters, they believed that they now had the moral justification to govern as they pleased. The Europeans had not been democratic in the Middle East, and neither was this new class of rulers. Hafez al Assad, Saddam Hussein, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi and the Nasserite pharaohs in Egypt right up through Hosni Mubarak all belonged to this category, which, like that of the imperialists, has been quickly retreating from the scene (despite a comeback in Egypt).

No Institutions. Here we come to the key element. The post-colonial Arab dictators ran moukhabarat states: states whose order depended on the secret police and the other, related security services. But beyond that, institutional and bureaucratic development was weak and unresponsive to the needs of the population — a population that, because it was increasingly urbanized, required social services and complex infrastructure. (Alas, urban societies are more demanding on central governments than agricultural ones, and the world is rapidly urbanizing.) It is institutions that fill the gap between the ruler at the top and the extended family or tribe at the bottom. Thus, with insufficient institutional development, the chances for either dictatorship or anarchy proliferate. Civil society occupies the middle ground between those extremes, but it cannot prosper without the requisite institutions and bureaucracies.

Feeble Identities. With feeble institutions, such post-colonial states have feeble identities. If the state only means oppression, then its population consists of subjects, not citizens. Subjects of despotisms know only fear, not loyalty. If the state has only fear to offer, then, if the pillars of the dictatorship crumble or are brought low, it is non-state identities that fill the subsequent void. And in a state configured by long-standing legal borders, however artificially drawn they may have been, the triumph of non-state identities can mean anarchy.

Doctrinal Battles. Religion occupies a place in daily life in the Islamic world that the West has not known since the days — a millennium ago — when the West was called “Christendom.” Thus, non-state identity in the 21st-century Middle East generally means religious identity. And because there are variations of belief even within a great world religion like Islam, the rise of religious identity and the consequent decline of state identity means the inflammation of doctrinal disputes, which can take on an irregular, military form. In the early medieval era, the Byzantine Empire — whose whole identity was infused with Christianity — had violent, doctrinal disputes between iconoclasts (those opposed to graven images like icons) and iconodules (those who venerated them). As the Roman Empire collapsed and Christianity rose as a replacement identity, the upshot was not tranquility but violent, doctrinal disputes between Donatists, Monotheletes and other Christian sects and heresies. So, too, in the Muslim world today, as state identities weaken and sectarian and other differences within Islam come to the fore, often violently.

Information Technology. Various forms of electronic communication, often transmitted by smartphones, can empower the crowd against a hated regime, as protesters who do not know each other personally can find each other through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. But while such technology can help topple governments, it cannot provide a coherent and organized replacement pole of bureaucratic power to maintain political stability afterwards. This is how technology encourages anarchy. The Industrial Age was about bigness: big tanks, aircraft carriers, railway networks and so forth, which magnified the power of big centralized states. But the post-industrial age is about smallness, which can empower small and oppressed groups, allowing them to challenge the state — with anarchy sometimes the result.

What can a mere rifle do?

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The target analysis methodology US Special Ops forces use is unclassified, Weapons Man notes:

It is described by the acronym CARVER. That stands for Criticality, Accessibility, Recuperability, Vulnerability, Effect, and Recognizability. A brief definition of Criticality might be: “how critical is the targeted node to the target system, or to the enemy’s war-making capability?”

[...]

CARVER works as well when planning to protect or defend a target. For instance, it systematizes developing CT countermeasures or securing a target against exploitation by reconnaissance, surveillance, or attack. The primary product of CARVER is a thorough understanding of the target, target system or target complex by the assigned team, but they also produce a target folder. (In the real world, they’re usually updating a preexisting target folder, which might be a half-century old). One of the documents they produce, for each target, is a CARVER matrix which can be unweighted, but in the real world is usually drafted with weighted values. The weights depend on overall mission objectives and priorities. (For example, CARVER values are weighted differently for a clandestine attack in a time of nominal peace, than they are for an overt attack in time of war). This example of a simple, unweighted CARVER Matrix is from Appendix B to FM 34-36.

CARVER Matrix from FM 34-36 Appendix B

Herschel Smith describes the terrorist attack that America cannot absorb:

The most vulnerable structure, system or component for large scale coal plants is the main step up transformer — that component that handles electricity at 230 or 500 kV. They are one-of-a-kind components, and no two are exactly alike. They are so huge and so heavy that they must be transported to the site via special designed rail cars intended only for them, and only about three of these exist in the U.S.

They are no longer fabricated in the U.S., much the same as other large scale steel fabrication. Its manufacture has primarily gone overseas. These step up transformers must be ordered years in advance of their installation. Some utilities are part of a consortium to keep one of these transformers available for multiple coal units, hoping that more will not be needed at any one time. In industrial engineering terms, the warehouse min-max for these components is a fine line.

On any given day with the right timing, several well trained, dedicated, well armed fighters would be able to force their way on to utility property, fire missiles or lay explosives at the transformer, destroy it, and perhaps even go to the next given the security for coal plants. Next in line along the transmission system are other important transformers, not as important as the main step up transformers, but still important, that would also be vulnerable to attack. With the transmission system in chaos and completely isolated due to protective relaying, and with the coal units that supply the majority of the electricity to the nation incapable of providing that power for years due to the wait for step up transformers, whole cites, heavy industry, and homes and businesses would be left in the dark for a protracted period of time, all over the nation.

As bad as the recent Metcalf, California attack was, it could have been worse. The West Point Combating Terrorism Center found that an attack on well-chosen nodes could take down one of the three regional grids powering the US.