#1630 Unrivaled Global Arms Dealer: Officially and Illegally Exporting the US Gun Culture Around the World (Transcript)

Air Date 5/21/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we explore whether by the U.S. Government playing matchmaker for the domestic weapons industry or through the illegal trade of the "Iron River," the facts of the U.S. being the leading seller of weapons around the world, fueling violence and conflict, oppression, and rights abuses. Sources on our front page today include American Prestige, Big Take, The Take, Facepalm America (great name by the way), Democracy Now, The Inquiry, Jacobin and Johnny Harris. 

Then, in the additional sections half of the show, we'll dive deeper into the U.S. as a global arms dealer, guns flowing into Mexico and our domestic gun policy.

News - Biden's "Red Lines" for Gaza, Ukraine Hits Oil Facilities, US Leads Global Arms Sales - American Prestige - Air Date 3-15-24

DANNY BESSNER - HOST, AMERICAN PRESTIGE: Let's end with some great news, and that is the United States has expanded its lead in terms of global arms. So Derek, can you update us? 

DEREK DAVISON - HOST, AMERICAN PRESTIGE: So the newest report from the Stockholm [00:01:00] International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, which looks at arms sales around the world and does them in five-year chunks, so every new report is about the five-year period leading up to when that report comes out. And their latest report was --they released it on Sunday --found that the US has increased its share of global arms sales to more than 40%, I think somewhere around 42% in this new report. The expansion, --they were already the global leader, but they were in this sort of mid thirties, I think, so it's a significant increase. It comes mostly at the expense of Russia. Since the war in Ukraine, the Russian military is retooled to primarily focus on fighting the war and also, I think, there's squeamishness about maybe purchasing Russian weapons these days. So their share of global arms sales fell by over half in this report, and they've now slipped behind France, which is another beneficiary, it has risen to second place. 

But really I think that the main focus [00:02:00] here is that the US is cornering the market on selling things to kill people, which is the thing that we do best. So congratulations to everybody involved. 

DANNY BESSNER - HOST, AMERICAN PRESTIGE: Congratulations, everyone! 

DEREK DAVISON - HOST, AMERICAN PRESTIGE: We're always so proud to to be successful in these sorts of things.

How Washington Plays Matchmaker For The US Gun Industry Part 1 - Big Take - Air Date 10-30-23 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: Jessica, your story starts with a scene of the SHOT Show, this big convention in Las Vegas. Can you tell us about the SHOT Show? 

JESSICA BRICE: It's the world's biggest firearms industry event. It officially stands for the shooting, hunting, outdoor trade show. It happens every January in Las Vegas and some 50,000 to 60,000 gun makers, dealers, enthusiasts flood into this convention center to learn about what's happening in the industry, to make deals, to close deals.

The buyers are there to find the weapons that they're then going to bring back to their stores and sell on. And that includes international buyers who want to meet up with the big gun makers and they want to get access to those products. 

And really it's a [00:03:00] networking event that's inside the industry. It's not open to the public. You have to be involved in the firearms industry in order to get a ticket. 

MICHAEL SMITH: And there's a whole ecosystem, sort of, of events that go along with this. For example, one day where all the sellers take buyers out to the middle of the desert to this giant shooting range where they can just try all the cool guns that they want to see how they fire.

And there are also lots of dinners between clients and their suppliers. And then there's this whole ecosystem of influencing, people networking for social media, trying to promote brands that will hopefully sell more. But the main point is for the gun industry to sell more guns. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: And Jessica, you're right about how a little bit out of the way in a less glamorous part of the event is one of the most important groups there, and it's the US government. 

JESSICA BRICE: Yes. The Department of Commerce works with a number of trade shows. It's not just the SHOT Show that it works with. It works with something like 30 trade shows every year, and it brings international buyers [00:04:00] to meet up with American companies that want to do business abroad. It does that for electronics, it does that for concrete, it does that for dental equipment. But one of the more controversial products it does that for is guns. 

So in that corner of the SHOT Show, you have the International Trade Center. It's in one of the ballrooms that has the partition walls and the burgundy chairs. And there's a lot of bureaucrats basically standing around and what they're doing is they're meeting up with the people that they invited from abroad, whether that's Brazil or Peru or Mexico or Asia somewhere or from all over the world, they bring these buyers into Las Vegas and then they help them set up these meetings with American gun makers and for a fee, they'll even sit in on these meetings and help close those deals.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: Mike, how does the Commerce Department find all of these people to bring to the US to [00:05:00] go to the gun show?

MICHAEL SMITH: So the Commerce Department has what it calls specialists. They post in embassies around the world, and their main job is to match buyers of US good with sellers of US goods. 

Some of these specialists specialize in guns. That's one of the turfs that they have to drum up business for. They basically talk to entities that are interested in buying guns. And then they just go out and make contacts with these buyers, and then they open up a whole world of services that the US government through Commerce provides to essentially get buyers together with sellers in the United States.

JESSICA BRICE: These specialists, they're foreign commercial service specialists around the world. They typically tend to be foreign-born specialists. So they're foreign-born hires. And the reason for that is because the American officers will rotate in and out of embassies and consulates on two- or three-year stints, but you need the foreign, the locals who are there, they're working there for decades and they're maintaining [00:06:00] those business relationships.

So when the American officers come in, they're ultimately the ones who are always calling the shots. But they're tapping into this network that has been built for 20, 30 years. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: So Mike, the Commerce Department is trying to find buyers. The people they're bringing to Las Vegas, what are some of the countries they're bringing them from?

MICHAEL SMITH: So these specialists really work in embassies around the world. You have some posts in Asia, in Europe, and some posts in Latin America. In our story, we really focused on Latin America, and we found examples of a commerce specialist bringing gun buyers up from Brazil, from Peru, and from different countries in Central America.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: So all told, how many different buyers coming to the SHOT Show are there as essentially guests of the Commerce Department? 

MICHAEL SMITH: This goes back to an agreement that the SHOT Show made with the Commerce Department in 2013 to make a concerted effort to [00:07:00] bring more gun buyers up from around the world, basically.

In the first year, 2013, they brought around 370 buyers to SHOT Show. But by January 2023, of this year, that number had surged to more than 3,200 buyers. So that gives you a sense of the scope and the growth we've seen in international buyers being basically brought up by these specialists around the world.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: Is it working? Are exports of US guns rising as a result of the Commerce Department's efforts? 

JESSICA BRICE: One of the frustrating things about how the Department of Commerce operates is that there's no transparency because it involves corporate trade secrets. So there's no real transparency around this program and how it works.

We don't know how much in sales the Commerce Department officials are helping to broker. We don't have a real clear insight into how much exports have climbed because of this program. But we do know that between [00:08:00] 2018 and 2022, we saw a 300 percent increase in semiautomatic rifles and handguns coming into Brazil.

MICHAEL SMITH: After President Trump came into office, he basically put the approval process for gun exports into the hands of the Commerce Department, the same department that has these specialists around the world. After that happened a couple of years ago, gun exports from the United States jumped to $16 billion, and that's almost 30 percent above historical averages.

So there you can see how things have changed for the better for gun makers. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: And Jessica, does the Commerce Department work with gun advocacy groups or trade associations for the industry? 

JESSICA BRICE: It's not working directly with the gun advocacy groups, but it works with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the industry group, the trade group that runs SHOT Show.

The NSSF, which is how they're known, they're actually more influential in terms of lobbying money being spent in Washington than the NRA [00:09:00] is these days. A lot of people know the NRA. The NRA has traditionally said that they represent the gun owner. The NSSF represents the gun manufacturers, right? And so who's paying those membership dues? It's the Glocks and the Rugers and the Smith and Wessons. All the companies are part of the NSSF. And they're spending almost twice as much money every year to push through laws that are more favorable to gun makers. They advocated for this shift to put Commerce Department more in control and have more oversight over the gun exports.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: One of the concerns that the US government has had in the past with gun exports is making sure that they don't go to countries where there are unstable governments, where there are reasons to believe that guns could be used for violence. Is that still something that the US government monitors very closely before they make deals for foreign gun sales?

MICHAEL SMITH: It's [00:10:00] unclear how closely they monitor it. The Commerce Department has taken over processing and essentially approving gun exports--licenses, they're called. But the State Department, they have the right to look over an export license and stop it if they want. That has happened sporadically from what we can tell, but it's difficult to know how steadfast their policy considerations are and exactly what criteria they use to come up with those decisions.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: And what has the Commerce Department said about this when you asked them about the program? 

JESSICA BRICE: This topic spans the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Commerce. And of all of those departments, and not to mention all the embassies, many of which we tried to reach out to, the Commerce Department is the least transparent. They don't offer any information regarding how many people they send to SHOT Show every year, what sort of resources are dedicated towards the effort, how many folks [00:11:00] are out in the world recruiting and building these lists and these group trips to Las Vegas every January. 

Bloomberg entered in with a Freedom Of Information request, so-called FOIA, trying to get even the most basic of numbers. We actually have started up a lawsuit trying to get this information, but they really, really are closed lipped about the entire process. 

Can a lawsuit stop Mexico’s ‘iron river’ of guns? - The Take - Air Date 8-13-21

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: Tell me about this lawsuit that the Mexican government has recently filed. Why did the government take this step? 

JOHN HOLMAN: They're filing a lawsuit against 11 gun manufacturers and some quite famous ones as well amongst them. They've got Colt, they've got Smith & Wesson, they've got quite a lot of big names. Basically what they're saying is that those companies have been negligent in the fact that there's guns that they're selling that are ending up in Mexico.

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: The lawsuit alleges that the companies knew they were contributing to illegal arms trafficking. 

Mexican officials hope the lawsuit will put a dent in crimes committed [00:12:00] by illegal firearms. 

JOHN HOLMAN: Actually, the Mexican foreign minister went even further than negligence. This is actually a lucrative market the Mexican government seems to be saying that these manufacturers are going after. That's what they want to stop. They're asking for compensation. They're hoping about $10 billion that will go into the Mexican Treasury. But they said that apart from the money, primarily, they want these companies to start self-regulating so it's not this sort of sea of weapons heading towards Mexico with everyone washing their hands of it. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: How likely is it that it's going to succeed? 

JOHN HOLMAN: That's the big question, and it was asked actually—we were in the briefing with one of the government's top lawyers from the foreign ministry and he said that he wasn't certain that it was going to succeed, but basically they were going to give it their best shot.

Now running against it is the fact that in 2005 in the United States there was a statute that introduced widespread protection against gun companies from lawsuits and [00:13:00] legal action from victims of gun violence. 

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: California Congressman Adam Schiff calls the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or "PLACA," a deeply destructive bill that protects gun manufacturers from any responsibility for how their products are used, even when they're used to commit a crime.

But groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation say this is just another attempt by democratic lawmakers to demonize constitutionally protected products. 

JOHN HOLMAN: Now, what the Mexican government's hoping is that because they're outside of the United States, they can still be able to do this because they're not within the United States and that statute won't protect the gun companies against their legal action.

That's their hope, and we have to see how that plays out. This isn't going to happen overnight. This is going to be quite a long drawn out process. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: Mexico's gun laws are strict. In fact, there is only one place in the entire country where you can legally purchase a gun, and that's in [00:14:00] the capital—on a base.

So, you mentioned a "sea of weapons," are there any estimates about how many weapons are being trafficked from the U. S. into Mexico? 

JOHN HOLMAN: The foreign ministry said that the government estimates that half a million weapons are coming across from the United States to Mexico every year. And they said that they're causing at least 17, 000 homicides—those weapons.

They call it an "Iron River," that's what they call it, that's coming across the border, from the United States into Mexico. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: That Iron River has been the subject of a lot of research and reporting on both sides about where the guns come from and how they get across. This is Eugenio Weigend Vargas. 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: I'm the research director for gun violence prevention at the Center for American Progress.

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: That's a think tank based in Washington, D. C. 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: Throughout my life I've been living in the United States and Mexico back and forth, but for the last 10 years I've been living in the United States. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: And like many people with ties to [00:15:00] both countries, Eugenio is used to driving back and forth—he was just in Mexico last week—but he's also observing with the eyes of a researcher. 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: I've done that many times in my life, you know, where I've driven from the United States to Mexico and the checkpoints are pretty weak. They randomly maybe check a vehicle every 20, 25 vehicles. Usually when I drive across the border, I'm never stopped, which makes it very easy to hide maybe 10 or 15 rifles in the back of your car and never get stopped.

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: He's hypothetically speaking, of course. And in Eugenio's line of research, that's tough to watch. 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: It's a bit, frustrating not to see that, you know, that the problem exists and there's nothing really going on, except there's a big sign that says "Trafficking guns to Mexico is illegal. Don't do it!" But, you know, I'm not sure that that sign has any impact or has incentivized anybody from not trafficking guns to [00:16:00] Mexico. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: So it's pretty well known now that the border controls are weak, but that's not where the story begins. It starts with how the guns get to the border in the first place, and that's part of Eugenio's research.

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: There's a high level of guns within the United States, but there's also a lot of ways in which those guns can easily get diverted. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: One of them is called "straw purchasing." 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: Straw purchasing basically is a person who is legally able to purchase a gun without a problem, but does so on behalf of a third person—usually an individual that is prohibited by law to purchase a gun. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: Straw purchasers are sometimes caught by police or federal agents, but in the U. S., there's no law making gun trafficking a federal crime. It's usually considered a paperwork violation, not a felony, and rarely means prison time. And this has been a problem for years.

This federal agent spoke to Al [00:17:00] Jazeera about it back in 2018. 

US FEDERAL AGENT: What we could really use is a firearms trafficking statute, because that would allow us to go after not only the straw purchaser, but the entire network of people that are getting these guns to arm the cartel. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: But straw purchasing isn't actually the easiest way to get a gun.

Buying from a dealer requires a background check and a record of a sale, among other things, but for traffickers, there's a way to get around that—and that's private sales. Including at gun shows. 

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: What's called the "gun show loophole." Gun shows have been going on for as long as I can remember. Uh, and I don't think there's anything wrong with them.

Uh, it's a good place to get a good deal. 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: Gun shows are gatherings at convention centers, parking lots, even parks—where people just gather around to sell guns and other gun related accessories like holsters, stickers, but you also see the AR 15 rifles, the AK 47 displayed on [00:18:00] tables. You see some gun dealers there.

Federal firearm license dealers must conduct a background check before any gun sale. Those are required by law. Gun dealers at gun shows are required to run background checks on any sales, but in this case private sellers are not required to run background checks meaning that anybody that is prohibited by law from purchasing a gun can go to a gun show and get a gun with no questions asked.

Even a person that intends to traffic that gun or a person that is prohibited by law because it has, for example, a history of domestic violence. As of now, 22 states require some form of background check during private sales. However, in 28 states, this requirement simply does not exist. 

MALIKA BILAL - HOST, THE TAKE: And that includes two border states, Texas and Arizona.

These private sales are a well known issue in the U. S. gun control debate, but some of Eugenio's visits to gun shows were also focused close to the [00:19:00] border. 

EUGENIO WEIGEND VARGAS: You see all these rifles on display on tables, keeping in mind that they're only about two, three miles from the Mexican border—meaning that anybody can drive to a gun show,

approach a private seller and get any type of weapon that they're selling, including an AR 15 rifle. Gun shows happen every weekend across America, so it's very easy on any given weekend to acquire a gun. 

How America’s Guns Fuel Violence across the Border: With Guest Ieva Jusionyte - Facepalm America - Air Date 2-27-24 


BEOWULF ROCHLEN - HOST, FACEPALM AMERICA: So the far right in America is always talking about, and the language they use is obviously pretty offensive, but an influx of illegal aliens—but there's also a huge influx of guns that goes from the U. S. Into Mexico, isn't there?

IEVA JUSIONYTE: That's correct. Influx, or you could say the "Iron River" of guns flowing southbound. 

BEOWULF ROCHLEN - HOST, FACEPALM AMERICA: So, the dynamic here, I mean, these aren't [00:20:00] isolated things. They don't just happen to be like seeking asylum. There are really terrible conditions in parts of Mexico, and that has to do with the guns that create, in part, the violence. That— I mean, it's all connected together, isn't it? 

IEVA JUSIONYTE: That, yeah, that's like putting two and two together. When I was doing research on the border, primarily for my past book—that is, looking, helping refugees and asylum seekers and migrants who get injured trying to get into the United States—only then I started noticing these signs on all the southbound lanes on the border crossings to Mexico that says guns and munition are prohibited in Mexico.

And I thought, huh. How interesting. So, these people are fleeing something that is clearly the result of our obsession with guns, our very powerful gun industry and gun dealers [00:21:00] that sell the guns that create those conditions of violence that then people are trying to run away from. Obviously, it's not the same for all refugees, but for Mexicans particularly.

Mexicans remain the largest group—the national group of people who are encountered in the U. S. Mexico border. 

BEOWULF ROCHLEN - HOST, FACEPALM AMERICA: It also certainly ties in, I would think, with the massive demand for drugs just to the north of Mexico in our country. So we're demanding that drugs come our way, and we're insisting that essentially that massive amounts of guns be exported.

It sounds like a ready made situation for horrors, doesn't it? 

IEVA JUSIONYTE: The drugs? Yes. We want the drugs and the drugs are supplied by various groups of organized. Criminal organizations in Mexico that compete for these routes to supply us the drugs. In order to compete they need firepower. They need weapons that they [00:22:00] cannot get in Mexico, but it's very easy for them to get them in the United States.

In Arizona, Texas, southbound inspections are almost non existent on the border. There are about 10, 000 gun dealerships in states bordering Mexico. So it's definitely connected to the drugs that we want. And we send the guns that enable the supply of drugs. 

BEOWULF ROCHLEN - HOST, FACEPALM AMERICA: Now, it's interesting that you say that the inspections are "virtually non existent."

I mean, I watch sometimes—there's a program on National Geographic that is focused on how agents at various ports of entry are, seemingly, meticulously checking through everything and finding stuff all the time. But you're saying from your observation, your studies and what you found, that's not really the case.

IEVA JUSIONYTE: Well, there are plenty of border patrol agents and [00:23:00] officers that work for Customs and Border Protection, but they are focused on what is getting into the country. So they are focused on confiscated drugs. They're focused on finding people who don't have authorization to enter the country and they are much, much less interested in catching guns going in the opposite direction in terms of allocating how many people are staffing, which lanes, mostly they care about northbound and not southbound flows of goods. 

BEOWULF ROCHLEN - HOST, FACEPALM AMERICA: Right. So, "you can check out, but you can't check in," in a manner of speaking. You once worked as an EMT along the U. S. Mexico border. What was the impact that you saw that these weapons have? 

IEVA JUSIONYTE: Well, I actually before I started working as an EMT on the U. S./Mexico border, I was also an EMT and paramedic right here in the United States. I started in Massachusetts and Florida, so I have seen the impact of gun violence [00:24:00] in our communities in the United States.

When I moved to the border, the injuries that we saw were not necessarily, immediately visible because the people who are running away—they were not running away because they got shot. They were running away because a family member was kidnapped or another person in the family was shot or they were threatened through extortion rackets.

So very few of them actually showed gunshot wounds by the time they presented at the border, but they had various other injuries associated with a travel to, to cross the border. So, like, fractures and if they fell off the wall or dehydration, if they travel through the desert. So these are also the consequences of guns, but they are not immediate. And that's why the very title of the book is Exit Wounds. It's not so narrowly physical wounds where the bullet [00:25:00] leaves the body, but it's what are the broader social effects that make the entire community or society, injured, wounded, impacted by our gun laws and guns themselves.

BEOWULF ROCHLEN - HOST, FACEPALM AMERICA: It's the wounds that cause people to leave the country as opposed to the wounds that they receive specifically, literally and physically. 

U.S. Eases Rules on Exporting Military Technology to Secure Role as World's Leading Arms Dealer - Democracy Now! - Air Date 10-16-13

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: In a boon for military contractors, the United States is relaxing controls on military exports, allowing some U.S.-made military parts to flow to nearly any country in the world with little oversight. ProPublica reports, beginning this week, thousands of parts for military aircraft can be sent freely around the world, even to some countries currently under U.N. arms embargoes. Previously, military firms had to register with the State Department and obtain a license for each export deal. That allowed U.S. officials to screen for issues including possible human rights violations. But now, tens of thousands of items are shifting to the Commerce Department, where they fall under looser controls. The changes were heavily lobbied [00:26:00] for by military firms including Lockheed Martin, Textron and Honeywell. The U.S. already heavily dominates arms exports market: In 2011, the U.S. concluded $66 billion in arms sales agreements, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of the global market.

To talk more about this, we’re joined by Bill Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

Bill, we thank you very much for being with us. You’ve just completed a report on the Obama administration’s loosening of controls over U.S. arms exports. Your latest book, Prophets—that’s P-R-O-P-H-E-T-S— Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Talk about what this Obama administration relaxing of the sending of weapons and parts means.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Sure. I think the amazing thing, which you mentioned, is that the United States already dominates the trade. It’s not clear they can make a lot more money here, but they’re trying. And one of the things that will happen is, if you’re a [00:27:00] smuggler and you want to do a circuitous path through a third-party country, those countries are now getting license-free spare parts, surveillance equipment and so forth, that can then go on to a human rights abuser, to a terrorist group. And detecting this is going to be much more difficult without the State Department licensing process.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: How did this happen?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the industry has been pushing for this for two decades, and they have a couple points of leverage. Of course, they have campaign contributions. They’ve got people on the advisory committees that help develop these regulations. They’ve done studies making bogus claims about the economic impacts. And the Obama administration, more than even the Bush administration, bought into industry’s arguments—argued, “Well, we’re going to streamline this. It’s going to make things more efficient. We’re going to get the economic benefits.” And I think they took a great risk in taking those industry suggestions, not looking hard enough at the human rights proliferation and anti-terrorist implications of that. So, I think they may have had good intentions, but I think [00:28:00] they tilted way too far towards the industry.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Several trade groups have been calling for this easing of restrictions on arms exports. Lauren Airey of the National Association of Manufacturers said in an interview with ProPublica that foreign competitors are, “Taking advantage of perceived and real issues in U.S. export controls to promote foreign parts and components—advertising themselves as State-Department-free.” Can you comment on that?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Sure. This is an anecdote that comes up frequently, but there’s never been any documentation of how common this is. The Commerce Department was asked in a congressional hearing, “What’s the economic downside of the current system or the upside of your reforms?” He said, “We haven’t looked at that.” So they really haven’t looked at the economic effects. In fact, if it’s easier to export production technology to build U.S. parts overseas, this reform could actually make it worse for U.S. jobs, even as it helps the big companies, like Lockheed Martin, outsource their components globally.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: So, talk about, Bill Hartung, the countries that can get these weapons and these [00:29:00] parts.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the first round is NATO allies, but includes countries like Bulgaria, countries like Turkey, which have had bad records of keeping those parts within their countries, keeping them from being transhipped to destinations that the U.S. would not want to see them in—places like Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia during its most repressive periods—basically, almost anywhere in the world it’s now going to be much easier to do this kind of roundabout sale. But also, many parts are going to be license-free altogether, so they can go almost anywhere in the world, other than perhaps Venezuela, Iran, China, in certain circumstances. The whole globe, basically, is going to get an easier deal in terms of getting access to U.S. military technology, without very many questions asked.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Can you explain, as even the Obama administration is pushing for more gun control at home, how this happens now?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think they [00:30:00] promised this to industry. They see it as a big achievement that they’ve undertaken since Obama’s first term. They have taken a look at the firearms issue. They’re going slow on rolling out those regulations, because they know it’s a very sensitive item. People, like the gun lobby, want no new restrictions, and in fact to roll back restrictions on gun exports. So I think there may still be room for leverage here over the administration, because they have been kind of shy about putting forward what they’re going to do about guns, ammunition, small arms or light weapons—which are among the biggest problems in terms of getting into conflict zones. I think there might still be some hope there to turn them around, but it will take some pressure, which so far we haven’t seen a great deal of pressure from the Congress on this.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Countries like Bahrain, that’s cracking down on its own people protesting human rights abuses there?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Exactly. Bahrain will probably have an easier time getting U.S. weapons. Saudi Arabia has just gotten a $60 billion deal, the biggest in history, for attack helicopters, fighter planes, guns and ammunition, armored [00:31:00] vehicles. And they’ve been helping Bahrain put down the democracy movement there, also obviously repressing their own people. So, not only are the sales at record levels, but they’re going to some of the most undemocratic countries in the world at a time when they’re supposed to be—our policy should be to support democracy in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, not help the oppressors, as some of these sales will do.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: What should President Obama be doing differently, Bill Hartung?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think, for starters, there should be a moratorium on any new changes in these regulations. Let them see what the first round—what the impacts are, which I think they’re going to see are going to be quite negative. Second of all, for things that have gone over to the Commerce Department, are not—unvetted by State, there should be new laws to say, well, Commerce has to use the same criteria as State, in terms of vetting for human rights. I think also they should look at what the economic impacts are really going to be. Instead of making these claims about how it’s going to be wonderful for U.S. jobs, really dig in and see how many jobs are going to be exported as a result of letting this technology flow more freely. I think if we can get him to do those three [00:32:00] things, we could probably blunt the most negative consequences of these so-called reforms.

Can Mexico win its battle with US gun companies? Part 1 - The Inquiry - Air Date 3-7-24

ADAM WINKLER: In the U. S. Constitution there's an individual right to bear arms, and the courts have interpreted that provision to mean that people have a right to keep firearms in their home for personal protection and carry guns on the public streets in case of confrontation with criminals or others who might pose a threat to them.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: And that's all needs regulating. So let's start with the industry. 

ADAM WINKLER: In the early 2000s, Congress passed a law providing immunity for gun makers and gun dealers when their guns are used to commit a crime. That law, known as the Protection for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, has basically made it very difficult to sue gun makers when their firearms are used to commit crimes and other harms.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: So does it also work to protect the gun industry from being accountable, then? 

ADAM WINKLER: Yes, it does. While the gun industry remains accountable for things like producing a defective [00:33:00] product. If you buy a firearm and it explodes in your hands you can sue the gun makers the way you can sue the maker of your toaster if it explodes when you use it.

However, when it comes to gun violence, when the firearm is used as it's intended—to fire at another person—then the gunmakers are off the hook and are not accountable when their firearms are diverted into the black market. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Legal protection was a top priority for the powerful gun rights group the National Rifle Association. It lobbied hard to make it happen. 

ADAM WINKLER: The gun makers pushed for that immunity, along with gun rights activists, out of concern that lawsuits would put the gun makers out of business. That immunity was adopted shortly after the tobacco companies reached a record settlement that involved billions and billions of dollars, and the gun makers were worried that they would face similar kinds of lawsuits and face daunting liability claims if they didn't have this federal [00:34:00] immunity.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Mexico also has the right to bear arms in its constitution, so its lawsuit against U. S. gun companies isn't challenging that. As well as federal legislation, there are also U. S. state gun laws, and some are more liberal than others. The route used to smuggle firearms from states with more relaxed laws to ones with stricter rules is known as the "Iron Pipeline."

ADAM WINKLER: These are ordinary highways that people drive cars on and obviously have millions of cars on them every day. So the fact that a car might be driving by and in its trunk have several hundred firearms—it'd be very difficult for the police to know about and to stop. So the Iron Pipeline is incredibly difficult to police and to supervise.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: The main U. S. agency for enforcing federal gun laws and cracking down on trafficking is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or the ATF. 

ADAM WINKLER: The ATF is moderately effective. It's generally an [00:35:00] underfunded agency with 400 million firearms in America and really no difficulty getting firearms from one state to another because of the lack of internal borders within the United States.

The ATF faces a daunting challenge in trying to enforce our gun laws. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: But when it comes to the border, Mexico needs to play its part. 

ADAM WINKLER: If you were to drive a car from Mexico into, say, California, that car is definitely going to be stopped, its occupants checked, and very possibly its trunk or other aspects of the vehicle searched and inspected.

However, that same vehicle going from California to Mexico will not be stopped and inspected by American Border Patrol. And Mexican Border Patrol is not nearly as aggressive as American Border Control in keeping things out. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Mexico originally filed its lawsuit in 2021 in Massachusetts. A year later, a court there threw it out because of the immunity law.[00:36:00] 

Mexico successfully appealed, arguing it is exempt from that law as a sovereign nation. It also claims that the flood of illegal guns across the border is a result of deliberate business practices by U. S. gun companies. 

ADAM WINKLER: Mexico definitely has a daunting case to prove that the gun makers are liable—even if they can bring their case in courts—that they have knowledge and that they intentionally did or negligently manufactured or marketed these firearms in a way that made it almost certain that they were going to Mexico.

How the US privatized WAR - Jacobin - Air Date 5-14-24

RANIA KHALEK - HOST, JACOBIN: When the U. S. launched its war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, Eric Prince's new venture, then called Blackwater, was quick to take advantage of the U. S. 's radical new privatization agenda. Blackwater soon won its first $27 million no-bid contract to provide security for Ambassador Paul Bremer, who headed the so called Coalition Provision Authority, the U. S. 's colonial administration in Iraq. [00:37:00] 

By 2007, it had won $1 billion in contracts from the State Department alone. More than half of these contracts were awarded without competition or tender. In just a few years, the secretive institution emerged from its swamp to become one of the most important players in the so-called War on Terror.

This was a marriage of convenience. Private companies are not required to report deaths and injuries among their mercenary forces. And they even enjoy greater impunity than the lawless U. S. military itself. 

On September 16th, 2007, the world witnessed that impunity. At around noon, a Blackwater convoy of four armed vehicles arrived at Baghdad's Nisour Square. Soon, the mercenaries opened fire on unarmed civilians passing through the square in their cars. Panicked, the Iraqi drivers began to flee the scene, but the mercenaries shot at the fleeing cars. [00:38:00] In all, 17 civilians were murdered, and more than 20 were injured in what some have called Baghdad's Bloody Sunday.

The Iraqi government called the attack an act of deliberate murder, but Blackwater insisted that it acted in self defense. The State Department backed them up. Not long after the massacre, Eric Prince testified to Congress. Remarkably, not a single question was asked about Nisour Square. But the question of civilian fatalities, which were well documented, did come up.

Prince's strategy? Denial. 

ERIC PRINCE: The people we employ are former U. S. military law enforcement people. People that have sworn the oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 


ERIC PRINCE: They, they bleed red, white, and blue. 

RANIA KHALEK - HOST, JACOBIN: After the Nisour massacre, Prince's ambitions grew further still.

He announced that Blackwater would now become a full spectrum [00:39:00] initiative and began to bid for new Pentagon contracts. In the years that followed, Blackwater established a new mercenary operation staffed by soldiers from all around the world, an intelligence agency staffed by former CIA operatives, an aviation division with dozens of aircraft, and even a line of armored personnel carriers.

When the U. S. flew suspected terrorists around the world to so-called black sites, Blackwater's flight records match those of known torture camps, suggesting that it played a role in the kidnap and torture program. Blackwater came to recruit mercenaries throughout Latin America, often recruiting former fascist foot soldiers, who themselves took part in campaigns of torture and massacre.

But it didn't stop there. Blackwater came to recruit mercenaries from around the world at a scale that may never be known. In [00:40:00] 2016, some 200 Sudanese mercenaries working for Blackwater were killed in a single strike in Yemen. All along, Blackwater moved further and further into the shadows.

During the U. S. 's wars in West Asia, private equity firms began to invest in private military companies. War is a safe bet. Endless war means endless profit. So these investment firms went on a buying spree that's not only continued to this day, it has accelerated.

According to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, private equity firms were responsible for 42% of all takeovers in the U. S. private defense sector in 2019. These funds face no requirement to disclose the financial status of their purchases. Through them, entire armies disappear into black holes where their size or activities can no longer be traced.[00:41:00] 

Meanwhile, the profits continue to pile up. In 2023, Joe Biden requested $842 billion for the U. S. military budget, which is roughly three times more than China's military budget and 10 times higher than Russia's. Based on figures in previous years, over half of that money is likely to have gone to private contractors.

Blackwater, which is now rebranded as Constellus Holdings, is among them. The new company brings together a range of private mercenary companies with other dull names like Triple Canopy, Tidewater Global Services, National Strategic Protective Solutions, and International Development Solutions. All are owned by Apollo Global Management Inc., a private equity giant based in New York City, which bought Constellus in 2012. 

From the tunnels of Gaza to [00:42:00] the streets of Raqqa, we often hear whispers of mercenaries fighting on behalf of the U. S. But how many wars are these private armies really involved in? How large will these corporations become in the future?

What's their political reach? Who decides where they fight? And when? And against whom? Blackwater's legacy means that the answers to these questions may long remain. hidden. War has been pushed into the shadows. Accountability has been eroded so deeply that the US can deny its active involvement in several wars of its own making.

In many ways, we knew where we were headed. In 1961, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an ominous warning in his farewell address about the grave implications of the untrammeled growth of the military industrial complex. 

PRESIDENT DWIGHT EISENHOWER: The potential for the disastrous [00:43:00] rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

RANIA KHALEK - HOST, JACOBIN: This misplaced power has now grown beyond all reasonable proportions. It won't rein itself in. The question is, who will?

How Washington Plays Matchmaker For The US Gun Industry Part 2- Big Take - Air Date 10-30-23

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: Jessica, one thing you write is that part of this story isn't just exporting US guns, but also exporting US gun culture to the places where US gun makers are looking to sell their product. 

JESSICA BRICE: Exporting guns--you know, most countries in the world don't have the tolerance for weapons or the demand for weapons that the United States has. And so it's not as easy as just reaching some deals and shipping [00:44:00] these guns abroad. You really need that gun culture to rise up in these places, to change the politics, to allow those guns to come in and to allow that market to bloom. And that's part of this effort. It's not just about signing contracts. It's also about getting advocates and politicians on board with the pro-gun agenda. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: And Mike, who is pressing in these other countries to change their culture to make them more receptive to US guns? 

MICHAEL SMITH: We looked at a couple of countries that basically have adopted American-style gun culture to a certain degree: Brazil and Peru. In Peru, it was very interesting. You have to go back almost 15 years when a member of the NRA advocacy family--they don't have formal ties, but they like each other--it's called Safari Club International. It's a hunting rights advocacy organization. They found a man named Tomas Saldias, a Peruvian hunter, who was getting a graduate degree in Texas. And [00:45:00] he really wanted to learn how to lobby for gun rights like they do in the United States. And they basically took him under their wing. 

When we spoke to Tomas Saldías, he explained to us how Safari Club International worked very closely with him over years, not only teaching him how to lobby, they took him to Washington and showed him how you go visit your congressman. They also gave him a little bit of money to cover his travel expenses. It was a volunteer job, but he got paid to go back to Peru, first organizing a regional gun rights advocacy organization to try to push for liberalized gun laws across Latin America, but he also lobbied the Peruvian Congress to stop an attempt to basically ban almost all guns in civilian hands in Peru. And he was quite successful. Congress blocked it. You can basically own as many semiautomatic assault rifles as you want, if you're a licensed gun owner, or pistols. It's quite a dramatic change that came about largely because of the influence, financing and sort of inspiration of the [00:46:00] US gun lobby. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: It seems hard to believe that one man's lobbying could be so effective. What was the argument that persuaded so many lawmakers in Peru to change their minds? 

MICHAEL SMITH: Well, Saldías was very clever in how he went about this. You have to understand that in Peru, lobbying is not part of the culture, especially not grassroots movements to get stuff changed. People don't have the culture of just going to visit their congressman saying, hey, I'm your constituent, you got to do what I want. But that's exactly what he did, because he learned in the United States.

And he also took advantage of the fact that the president was under fire. The opposition in Congress wanted just to get anything they could to take him down, so to speak. And so they really embraced this idea of this president cracking down on the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns. And he really used that quite effectively and convinced Congress almost single-handedly to block this effort to restrict gun ownership in Peru.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: And what did Safari International have to say about this? 

MICHAEL SMITH: Well, they were very proud of the work he did. [00:47:00] They put out press releases about his work. They brought him up to SHOT Show in 2014 after he organized this regional gun rights organization. And they had a news conference that they basically sponsored for him. They helped write his remarks that he gave at that news conference. And then they went on to follow his career and publicly call him out in the good way for the work he was doing on behalf of gun rights in a place like Peru. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: Jessica, you're in Brazil. And that was another country where the gun culture changed quite a bit.

JESSICA BRICE: Brazil has always had pretty restrictive gun laws. Bolsonaro came in and that was one of the platforms that he campaigned on was this idea that law-abiding citizens have a right to protect themselves, because Brazil is a very violent nation and there are a lot of illegal guns on the streets. It's not like there's no guns here. There's lots of gun violence. He came in on this promise to start allowing everybody to have guns so that they can defend themselves. And within two weeks of taking office, he blew that [00:48:00] market open. He just allowed basically anyone who had the will, they were able to get access, they were able to get a license. And they were able to own types of firearms that no one had ever seen before. His son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, who's also a lawmaker and also pushing the pro-gun agenda, he'd been to SHOT Show several times, and they had a real tight relationship with the former ambassador in the United States and with the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Commercial Service. 

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: But now, Bolsonaro's successor is pushing back a bit on this. 

JESSICA BRICE: Yeah. Bolsonaro's successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, he's actually a returning president. He was in office at the start of the century and he was the one who had pushed through many of the really tight gun laws that Brazil had. When Bolsonaro lost the election and Lula took over, on his first day of office, he reversed that. He required anyone who had purchased guns to re-register in a national registry. He blocked all these [00:49:00] shipments of guns that had been purchased, and they were stuck at ports and in Georgia and Florida. He's since shut down the market. 

But what you're seeing is that culture, that gun culture is still very alive and well. Lula's bans are based on decrees. They're not based on laws. That's the real important change that we've had in Brazilian culture recently in that Bolsonaro used to be the only pro-gun lawmaker, and now we have more than a hundred in Congress. And that's rising. Every year, you're seeing that rise, and it's probably not long before we actually get some laws on the books that open this market up.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: Mike, just to be clear, in places like Peru in Brazil where there are these efforts to make the culture more receptive to guns. That's not the US Commerce Department doing that work. Is that right? 

MICHAEL SMITH: No, it's more the gun advocacy groups in the United States. 

JESSICA BRICE: I think we want to be really clear that it's not the Department of Commerce that's [00:50:00] pushing this cultural change. They're pushing business opportunities for American gun makers. 

The lines are really blurred between the folks who are acting as activists and advocates for the changing culture and the people who are the business representatives for those organizations. And sort of the center of gun culture, it's SHOT Show.

If you're a gun lover, there's no cooler place on earth than to be than SHOT Show in Las Vegas every January. That's where a lot of this is happening. They're all mingling. You have US government officials, you have advocates, you have lobbyists, you have the business folks. They're all mingling in that same universe.

WES KOSOVA- HOST, BIG TAKE: The Biden administration has come out for greater gun control measures. The president signed an executive order to try to crack down on so-called ghost guns that don't have serial numbers. Is there any effort [00:51:00] inside the Biden administration about whether they want the Commerce Department doing this kind of work?

JESSICA BRICE: There's no indication that's the case. No matter who we reach out to within the government about this program, no one wants to talk about it. It's happening on foreign soil. It's not something that's really, really, really front and center to an American audience. It's something that they just declined to comment.

MICHAEL SMITH: Yeah, it really is a mystery, just because we don't have much insight into what's going on and the administration hasn't really spoken about it. 

The one thing we have been able to discover is that there have been instances where the State Department has decided, okay, we really shouldn't be exporting guns to this particular country or they should be restricted. Like the example of Peru, where there were some really violent protests at the beginning of this year and 50 people were killed by police mainly in these protests. And so the State Department started raising concerns about the human rights situation in Peru, and [00:52:00] putting a freeze on issuing new export licenses.

But that's a temporary freeze and Commerce officials have told gun importers in Peru that this will probably be worked out at some point. It's unclear how enduring that will be and whether that will be applied in other places with similar issues. 

Why the US Sells Weapons to 103 Countries - Johnny Harris - Air Date 3-6-24


JOHNNY HARRIS - HOST, JOHNNY HARRIS: If weapons are a currency for influence, and the US is using that currency to buy stuff, to buy influence or stability around the world, does that actually work the way that the Pentagon and the United States government think it does? The short answer is, sometimes, but not really. Where weapons really do work is in keeping alliances strong.

BILL HARTUNG: There's no question some countries welcome it, allies like Korea and Japan and so forth, Australia. And it probably does cement those relationships, make it more likely they'll support the US in a crunch. 

JOHNNY HARRIS - HOST, JOHNNY HARRIS: But when it comes to trying to use weapons [00:53:00] as an incentive to get countries to behave the way you want them to, that's where it kind of starts to break down.

And the best case for this is Saudi Arabia. You can see on this map, we give a lot of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration approved loads of weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia, and in doing so, we had some strings attached: a big one being that those weapons could not be used to violate human rights. Or from the horse's mouth, genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, serious violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, attacks directed against civilians who are legally protected from attacks or other war crimes as defined by 18 U. S. C. 2441. Translation, Saudi Arabia is not to use these weapons against civilians in any of their conflicts.

And yet, as Saudi Arabia has been waging this war against Yemen, they've done exactly that, using American weapons. They've bombed hospitals, weddings, and even a school bus. And we know that this is [00:54:00] American weapons because investigators and journalists have looked at the wreckage of these attacks and looked at the actual serial numbers, concluding that these are American weapons, but they flow through these lines.

BILL HARTUNG: Although Saudi Arabia used the bombs, most people in Yemen viewed it as an American war. Sent arms to Saudi Arabia that would slaughter people. In Yemen, but it was sort of this notion of, well, they're an oil supplier, they're bulwark against Iran, and those so-called larger strategic interests overrode the human rights imperatives.

JOHNNY HARRIS - HOST, JOHNNY HARRIS: Shout out to Bellingcat, the open source investigative journalism project that helped uncover a lot of this stuff. 

So Saudi Arabia isn't obeying the conditions that we put on these weapons. And Congress tried to pass a resolution that said that they were going to cut off some of this military aid that we were giving to Saudi Arabia. The problem is, a lot of the power to approve these weapon sales rests with the executive, the president. So President Trump actually vetoed this resolution. And even under the Biden administration, even though there was [00:55:00] like a brief pause, the weapons have kept flowing, making it very clear that this leverage that the US thinks it has, because it's the provider of all of these weapons, is actually kind of reversed. Turns out Saudi Arabia has a lot more leverage than we thought. 

JEFF ABRAMSON: You know, the ideas of the United States has kind of captured Saudi Arabia by having this weapons and defense arrangement that the Saudis need to rely on us, they will do things that we ask them to do, or I think the opposite is now happening. Saudi Arabia has been able to turn the tides and say, Hey, if you don't provide this, we'll find an alternate partner. The relationship has been perverted. 

JOHNNY HARRIS - HOST, JOHNNY HARRIS: Okay, but Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. Maybe we have better luck influencing fellow democracies. So let's look at Israel, who receives more military aid from the United States than any other country.

JEFF ABRAMSON: I think Israel is the prime example of the lack of leverage that you would think a well-developed, long-term weapons relationship would have. 

JOHNNY HARRIS - HOST, JOHNNY HARRIS: The US government has come out and [00:56:00] said that they are not happy with the way that Israel is conducting its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And yet what we see here is an effort to push more military aid to Israel without any pause or withdraw of these weapons transfers.

JEFF ABRAMSON: And that's the reality of the arms trade is that we can hope countries will take things into mind. We can tell them we want to do things, but ultimately they end up making local decisions for their local needs. 

JOHNNY HARRIS - HOST, JOHNNY HARRIS: There's a lot more cases just like this. Like the Philippines, where the Duterte regime has used American weapons to carry out a brutal war on drugs, murdering and jailing civilians in the process.

What's confusing about this is that, in some sense, the weapons are working for US interests. We sell them these weapons. We give them these weapons. We buy their support in deterring our enemy. But in the process, these weapons that we use as our currency are used for other things that have nothing to do with deterring our enemy.

And sometimes it gets really out of control. Like, we give a lot of weapons to Turkey, a [00:57:00] NATO ally. Turkey will then transfer that to its proxies in Syria who will use them to fight against American-backed rebels that are also using US weapons. So American weapons are being used on both sides of a conflict.

It just feels a little bit like deja vu from the book that was written a hundred years ago, stating that this was a problem. And it still kind of is. 

The other big issue with using weapons as your main currency for influence around the world is that weapons don't just go away. Back in the 80s, the CIA transferred a bunch of weapons to rebel fighters in Afghanistan who were fighting against the Soviets. Decades later, those same weapons were being used by those fighters and their descendants to fight against Americans who were then invading Afghanistan.

Same thing happened in Libya. We gave a bunch of weapons there and they leaked out and ended up in the hands of militants and insurgents in Syria and South Sudan. 

So if weapons are this currency that don't actually give us [00:58:00] leverage and that can create more danger than stability, why do we keep making them and sending to over 100 countries? 

There's a lot of answers to that question, but one of them has to do with money. There's a lot of money in making weapons. There always has been since the Industrial Revolution. Lots of these weapons are made all over our country, intentionally creating a network of jobs that no congressman ever wants to vote down. If a congressman votes to make fewer weapons, they could be voting against a factory or production facility in their district. Add to that, that some of our lawmakers own shares in these companies. If these companies make money, they make money. And yet they're the ones approving the money that goes to these corporations--a massive conflict of interest that we've reported on before in a previous video on insider trading. 

What you get is this military industrial complex, a permanent economic [00:59:00] business machine, that is incentivized to make more and more weapons, both to prepare for war and provide national security, but also to keep people rich, and to keep the constituents of lawmakers happy.

So, in short, one of the reasons the map looks like this is to keep a bunch of private corporations nice and rich.

Note from the Editor on the problems with looking for good or bad intentions

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with American Prestige reporting on the U S increasing its lead in arm sales. Big Take described how the U.S. plays matchmaker for domestic arms dealers. 

The Take explained the lawsuit trying to stop Mexico's Iron River. Facepalm America described more of the impact of gun smuggling into Mexico. Democracy Now, from back during the Obama administration, explained how the U.S. eased rules on exporting military technology. The Inquiry continued discussing the lawsuit attempting to stop gun smuggling. 

Jacobin looked at the practice of privatizing war with military [01:00:00] contractors. Big Take, explain to that gun culture must also be exported along with guns to the rest of the world. And Johnny Harris looked at the impact of arm sales on international leverage and corporate ledgers. And that's just the front page. 

There's more to dive into in the additional sections of this audio newspaper, but first a reminder that this show is supported by members who get access to bonus episodes, featuring the production crew here, discussing all manner of important and interesting topics, often trying to make each other laugh in the process. To support all our work and have those bonus episodes delivered seamlessly to the new "members only" podcast feed that you'll receive sign up to support the show at BestofTheLeft.com/support (link in the show notes), through our Patreon page if you prefer, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. 

If regular membership isn't in the cards for you, shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

And now, just before we [01:01:00] continue onto the sections-half of the show, I have a few thoughts. I feel like this is one of those topics that can so easily slide into the preconceived notions of whoever is hearing it. All of the same facts will be presented, but one person who, for instance, believes in the U.S. being a beacon of goodness will argue that either the weapons are doing good in the world or, at the very least, our intention was to do good in the world so we should be thanked at best or held the blameless at worst. 

But another person who sees the same facts, but has a perspective of the U.S. as an entity that can do almost no good, and has in fact been ultimately, you know, behind basically every bad thing that's happened around the world due to our imperialistic proclivities, will see the arm sales through that lens with the country—or at least the power brokers running the country—having an almost malevolent intent to mess up the world as much as [01:02:00] possible in order to profit from the chaos. 

 To be clear, that's not just a perspective from foreign adversaries or anything like that. Increasingly we've been hearing from people who consider themselves to be on the far left, who hold these kinds of reflexively anti-U.S. opinions. Now, unsurprisingly, there are problems with both of these extremes. For those with rose-tinted glasses, it hardly needs explaining that insisting on assuming the positive in the U.S. makes it much harder to find problems that may actually be able to be solved. The first step is so often just admitting that there's a problem. 

But the other view is similarly wrong-headed, not because it's wrong to be critical of the U.S., or even to look at any new issue with a skeptical eye. It's that reflexively always assuming the worst and ill intent just means that you're going to end up being wrong too often. Thinking of the country or the people who run it, particularly when it comes to issues of international [01:03:00] conflict, military aid and arm sales, as operating with either benevolent or malevolent intent just means you're starting off walking down the wrong path of logic right from the start. That doesn't mean you're always going to be wrong about your conclusions. But we all know it's possible to come to the right answer for the wrong reasons. 

Much more accurately and much less likely to lead to conspiratorial thinking is to understand systems thinking—understanding that people need not have ill intent to be part of a system that, for instance, sells weapons that end up having negative consequences. But that individual good intentions aren't enough to excuse the system. The more the politics of the right has slid into the conspiratorial abyss the more we all began to hear about "they" —the omnipresent, all powerful, "they" at the heart of every system, be it governmental, corporate, media, and it's the inner desires and [01:04:00] intentions of "they" that are responsible for how everything is playing out. 

This is the heart of conspiracism—the belief that rather than the world being a complicated place with lots of interlocking moving parts, being driven by old entrenched patterns and systems with global capitalism, always being in the mix, that it's actually just the will of powerful people pulling hidden strings that's making things happen. 

And to my dismay in the years, since the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine, I've been hearing that framing of "they" more and more from some on the left or maybe who were previously on the left and don't really know where they are now. "What they're doing," "what they don't want you to know," et cetera. What I wish people would understand is that this framing, as an argument, is just as silly and facile as those who dismiss real problems by saying, "It's okay, they meant well." 

So go easy on [01:05:00] individuals, they're likely not as evil as some would have you believe, but don't let perceived intentions of individuals cloud deserved criticism of the systems in place that need to be overhauled because they're the source of the problem. Go easy on people, hard on systems. That's not just the answer to our real problems. It's also how to get to those answers without getting wrapped up in conspiracy or delusion in the process. 

And now, we'll continue with the rest of the show. Next up, section A "Global Arms Dealer," section B "Guns to Mexico," and section C "Domestic Gun Policy."

SECTION A: Global ArmsInside Biden’s Secret Arms Deal - Deconstructed - Air Date 9-22-23

MURTAZA HUSSIAN: For the past year and a half, Pakistan has been talking about this secret document that no one had seen until recently, but which showed — allegedly, according to former Prime Minister Imran Khan — that the U.S. had privately pushed for his removal from power. Since Khan’s removal last year, Pakistan has been embroiled in a huge political, economic, and [01:06:00] security crisis, effectively, but no one had seen this document until we published it last month, and it did show that the substance of Khan’s claims, that U.S. diplomats from the State Department had encouraged his removal and, even, you could say, threatened or incentivized the Pakistani military to make his removal happen, was true.

And it did, actually shed some light on this issue, which in Pakistan is still ongoing, and which, still, is really at the core of the crisis in that country of 200-million-plus people, which is: who controls the country, who should control it, and who gets to make the calls behind the scenes? And, really, Khan’s claims of how his own dismissal took place had a lot more substance than his critics had said for a long time beforehand.

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Yeah. And the crux of the dispute — if you want to call it that — between the United States and Khan was Ukraine, and was what they called Khan’s, quote-unquote, “aggressively neutral position,” vis-à-vis the war between Ukraine and Russia. And, you [01:07:00] know, we’ve kind of made fun of that phrasing, “aggressively neutral,” because it is kind of absurd.

On the other hand, he was, actually, kind of aggressive about it the day before meeting with Don Lu in this critical moment, where Lu tells the ambassador that they basically want Khan gone. He was responding to EU complaints about his neutrality by saying, “we are not your slaves.”

So, yeah, I understand. As absurd as the claim is, I understand what he means by aggressive neutrality.

MURTAZA HUSSIAN: Yeah. Khan is a very famously bombastic, you can say, populist figure, in politics, and he does not dress up his statements in the diplomatic niceties that someone may expect. He’s quite blunt about it and, certainly, this seemed to provoke the United States or antagonize them. And the degree to which they were upset about it maybe wasn’t clear in public statements but, behind the scenes, what the State Department was saying, clearly they were quite, quite angry about Khan’s position.

And that’s another thing that no one knew [01:08:00] about the cipher, is what exactly was the core and substance of the dispute? It turns out that it really was about Ukraine and Pakistan’s stance on it which, while neutral was not that different from, say, India’s stance or Bangladesh’s stance on the conflict, they’re trying to take a nonaligned position in a conflict which really wasn’t in their region, and that seemed to step on the prerogatives of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, particularly as it relates to the Pakistani military.

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And you also have to have a little bit more power than Pakistan had in order to hold that neutral position, it seems. India and even some of the Gulf countries who are somewhat aligned with the United States have taken somewhat of a nonaligned position, but they can stand on their own two feet. And it seems like what the United States said here is that you can’t. Like, we can push you over, and we now have more context for what happened since then.

So, Khan is removed from power in April of 2022. At this point, the war is two months old. You’re already starting to see [01:09:00] the Ukrainians running low on munitions, because they were not expecting a long drawn-out war. The U.S. industrial base is also not in a place where it can produce these low grade weapons at scale. We can produce a hundred-million-dollar F-35 that falls out of the sky and gets lost and builds around it an entire orbit of executives and lobbyists, but we don’t make a lot of bullets and artillery shells. And so, for that we needed Pakistan.

Talk a little bit about the new reporting, and what we’ve uncovered about what Pakistan’s role was, vis-à-vis this war, after Khan was ousted.

MURTAZA HUSSIAN: Well, a very good point you made was that Pakistan was kind of vulnerable to this kind of external pressure from the United States, because its economic situation is so dysfunctional. And one thing we’ve learned now is that the IMF bailout that Pakistan received earlier this year, and which it’s really banking on to extricate itself from this significant economic crisis which it’s experiencing, was [01:10:00] encouraged or came to fruition with the great help of the United States, for Pakistani cooperation and support in the war in Ukraine, provision of these weapons, sales of which, the capital generated thereof, was used to facilitate the financing of this loan. And, certainly, also to curry the political favor necessary to make the loan happen.

So you have a situation where the U.S. has very great disproportionate influence in the IMF. Pakistan’s dependent on the IMF for financial support, financing loans and so forth. And the U.S. can say, well, implicitly or explicitly, we won’t open the taps for your economic well being if you don’t give us what we want politically in this sense. 

So we kind of see very, very great detail in the story how things really work behind the scenes, the dealmaking that takes place at elite levels beyond what is said publicly, which is much more anodyne and sterile, you could say, or more diplomatic, you could say, in the public positioning. It was a lot of horse-trading [01:11:00] taking place behind the scenes.

And, unfortunately, I think that the ugly part of this deal is that there’s a crackdown taking place in Pakistan right now — it’s being led by the Pakistani military — to dismantle Khan’s party and suppress pretty much all dissent. And this loan has effectively helped finance that crackdown. It’s allowed them to postpone elections, it’s allowed them to solidify their own hold on power, which should be temporary in anticipation of elections, but seems like it’s much more long-lasting than that.

And it’s all going back to an arms deal. It’s an arms deal for … Bombs for billions, you could say, that’s what’s holding the current Pakistani regime in place.

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And so, to help us walk through and unpack this, we’re also joined by Arif Rafiq, who is a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute. A lot of his focus area is on Pakistan and South Asia. He’s also a political risk analyst that focuses on that region.

 Can you talk a little bit about the role of the IMF here? As somebody who was observing this unfold beginning in early [01:12:00] 2022, what was the role of the IMF here, and what are the implications of what we’ve uncovered here?

ARIF RAFIQ: The IMF effectively serves as life support for the Pakistan economy. Pakistan is a habitual patient of the IMF. So, this is currently the 22nd or 23rd IMF program for Pakistan in its history. And so, every, I would say, three to five years, the country enters some kind of new IMF program, and that’s because the country goes through what are called boom-bust cycles. It grows at above average rates for a couple of years and its economy heats up, and it begins to run out of money to finance its own budget as well as its external liabilities.

So, Pakistan is a net importer. It imports energy — as well as some food items and other things — to fuel its economy as well as feed its [01:13:00] people. And its export base is quite weak. And so, it constantly needs the influx of funds from the IMF, as well as IMF partners, to help enable it to finance its imports, and then also address its budgetary needs.

And so, the IMF routinely comes in, and Pakistan is a sort of a longtime patient of the IMF. And, basically, the IMF plays the role of preventing Pakistan’s economic collapse. It doesn’t help the country in terms of its broader economic transformation and developing economy, an economy that meets the needs of its people, but it is there to prevent an all-out collapse.

MURTAZA HUSSIAN: You described the situation of the boom-bust cycle in Pakistani politics. I believe there’s something with Pakistan’s political economy which contributes to that. And you mentioned civil-military relations earlier. The Pakistani military obviously has a very disproportionate share in Pakistan’s economy [01:14:00] itself. It’s a big real estate holder, it controls other industries.

How does this military control of the economy lead to this chronically dysfunctional economic situation?

ARIF RAFIQ: Yeah. There is an imbalance in Pakistan’s economy, and its economic policies are largely aimed at or disproportionately aimed at privileging the few in the country, and that includes its political and economic elites, as well as the military. The military is a major economic player in the country. It owns a significant amount of land as commercial property. It also manufactures corn flakes, meat, and other goods. And so, it’s very analogous to what we have in Egypt and other countries, where the military is just a big player in the economy.

So it receives these undue benefits, in terms of privileges, in terms of market access and things like that. And, ultimately, what that does is it creates a kind of a domestic economy where the rules of the game are served to privilege the [01:15:00] few. And then, Pakistan’s elite doesn’t invest in competing in the broader global market, and that’s why the military and other major economic actors can benefit from the sheer demand in a country with a population of 240 million. But that is not a pathway toward creating a sustained economic growth that can last over a decade or two, as we’ve seen in countries like Bangladesh — which was formerly part of Pakistan — India, Vietnam, and many of the Southeast Asian countries that have seen some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

So, the rules of the game are aimed at privileging the few, and that produces this imbalanced economy. And then the IMF comes in, and this is a very tortuous exercise that repeats itself every few years.

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And so, what we reported in this most recent article is that the weapons production began roughly in August by Pakistan [01:16:00] for the United States, for the benefit of the Ukrainian military. And then, by the spring of 2023 — so, that’s this year — the IMF publicly tells Reuters and Bloomberg and other news outlets that claims made by Pakistan about its progress toward the next round of IMF financing are not quite accurate. You know, that Pakistan was saying “We’re good, everything’s on cruise control. It expires the end of June 30th, but we should be good. The next round is coming in.”

IMF says, not so much. You need — I think, correct me if I’m wrong — roughly $6 billion, you need to come up with collateral from these other countries in order for us to put forward our financing. And, all of a sudden, at the end of June, the money uncorks.

So, we can add to this now through our reporting, that Pakistan went to the United States and said, we want this weapons program and the financing that’s coming through it to count toward filling this gap. 

Josh Paul Reveals The Truth Behind US Arms Supply to Israel - Laura Flanders and Friends - Air Date 11-7-23

JOSH PAUL: Many of these laws. [01:17:00] require the department to come to some sort of a determination, uh, before any sanctions or withholding of assistance occurs. Uh, if you never come to the determination, you've never broken the law. Uh, that said, I believe that the legal standards are rather lapsed, lacked, and lacking.

Uh, and I believe that we should be holding ourselves to a stronger standard. Uh, part of this also comes down to questions of interpretation of law. 

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: You also said that it is in the hands of higher ups. Who would that be? The final determination?

JOSH PAUL: I think the, the, the, the main policy decisions on Israel right now are being made, uh, from the top down, uh, which again is atypical for most arms sales.

They sort of bubble their way up, uh, from the bottom. You get an application from a partner or from a U S company. seeking a certain military capability. Uh, and that's a debate that, you know, gradually bubbles up to the decision makers. Uh, in this instance, the decision was made, uh, and therefore there was no space for that, that bubbling for that debate.

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: At [01:18:00] the top is the president. Is he ultimately responsible? Of 

JOSH PAUL: course, these are his authorities. 

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: So what can be done, I'm sure there are people in our audience who, whatever, wherever they stand on culpability for this particular round of violence, want to see an end to it, and want to see peace. What Can they do right now to perhaps to support civil service like the ones you're hearing from who are saying, we're still deciding to be inside trying to do good.

Are there things civil society outside can do to support people like that? 

JOSH PAUL: Yeah, there are three things I will point to. The first is a bit of a cliche, but it really does matter. Contact your member of Congress, contact your senator. I worked in a congressional office. And I know how we used to sit down with the member of Congress on a weekly basis.

Review the call logs and go through them and say, okay, we've had five calls on this side. We've had seven calls on that side and that really does inform how members of congress think about their votes Uh, so that that really is an important thing to do the second thing is [01:19:00] I would say reach out to your local media Uh, there are reporters for what's left anyway of local media, uh who cover?

Um local communities and how they are reacting to world events Make sure they're getting your side of the story And the third thing of course is is organized and there are some good organizations already out there uh, so that the So for example, there is the alliance for peace building Uh, is, is one organization, uh, who does a lot of good work bringing communities together around both local conflict resolution and global conflict issues.

So I think those are the three things I would recommend. 

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: Do we have a moment now with President Biden coming out right after you resigned, actually, um, urging Congress to approve, I think more than a hundred billion dollars in aid for Israel, Ukraine, and I think Taiwan. Um, is there a moment now?

Especially to stop any of that, or is it gonna go no matter what? 

JOSH PAUL: I think it's an important moment to talk about it because it [01:20:00] highlights it, right? And the debate inevitably will go away in several months. This won't be something that is on the top of everyone's minds. And while it is, I think this is the opportunity to make an impression.

Is it going to change anything in the short term that I can't say. I think we've have seen a slight shift over the last few days in the administration's approach. I think we've seen a change in tone, a greater focus on Palestinian civilian casualties and the harm that could be done. But in terms of the actions that underlie that, uh, when we look at a supplemental request that has billions of dollars for arms and a hundred million dollars, uh, for humanitarian relief in Gaza, for example, uh, I, I think I'm skeptical that the short term will make any difference, but I think the long term is much more promising.

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: You talked about the harm that could be done and even as we speak, people are being killed. Um, as we record this, um, Raji Sarani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in [01:21:00] Gaza, spoke on Democracy Now and basically said, Palestinian civilians are in the eyes of the storm. They are the targets.

PALESTIAN: They, they destroyed Gaza. I mean, it's unbelievable. This army, Targeting only civilians and civilian targets. Towers, houses, hospitals, churches, mosques, schools, sheltered places, ambulances, nurses, Doctors, journalists, this is the most ethical army, this is the most ethical army in the world. This is the mighty Israel, it's might and power, targeting civilians.

They are doing war crimes, crimes against humanity, persecution for 2. [01:22:00] 4 million people. For the last 18 days. How are you 


JOSH PAUL: this? That's right. And if I may, I mean, I saw a report today about a Palestinian family from the north of Gaza, uh, who moved, uh, following the Israeli direction to do so, uh, only for a large number of the family members to be killed in the South of Gaza, uh, when the Israelis struck there.

There is no escape within Gaza. Uh, and for those of us who have experienced war, we know that. Uh, the trauma, the screech of a no flying F 16 followed by explosions day after day after day. Even if you are not physically harmed is an irreparable trauma. 

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: We've seen this past week in October 20th, Israeli aircraft dropping flyers on northern Gaza saying that anybody who refuses to abide by the, what amounts to a forced evacuation or forced, um, relocation order from the north to the south will be considered, um, in league with the terrorists or a terrorist and subject to being killed.

How do [01:23:00] you, what's your sense of that? Is that legal? 

JOSH PAUL: So, let me first say that Israel does have a right to respond to Hamas's brutal, violent attack, no question. The Geneva Conventions prohibit the forced relocation of civilians within an occupied area. And so, I think there is a good legal question to be raised there.

I am not a lawyer. Uh, but I think one can only look at what is, at this point, 1. 3 million Palestinians within Gaza who are reported to have been dislocated from their homes, uh, many of those homes of course now destroyed and they won't be able to go back to them, um, to, to raise these sorts of questions and to ask that question I think is very legitimate.

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: Yeah. Please take a moment to subscribe to our newsletter and you'll get information on all of our programming including the weekly premiere on YouTube and our upcoming shows. Please subscribe at lauraflanders. org. I mean, my hair is on fire. You don't see it, but I feel it. Um, partly I've been. I would say that mine 

JOSH PAUL: is too.

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: Yours [01:24:00] obviously burnt up. Um, you lived in Ramallah. As you say, you served in Iraq. Uh, you, I mean, you, you worked in Iraq. Um, for those of us who have seen this up close, uh, this is a moment of despair and fury. And I wonder, Um, holding all of the civilian victims in our hearts at the same time. I certainly, um, feel and weep for those whose families have been torn apart by the attacks of Hamas, whose relatives are held hostage still.

But with all of that in your heart right now, how do you make sense of your effort and those of your colleagues to try to insert human rights? kind of rules on war, because it's almost seems inevitable that in the name of right to defense right to reprisal, um, governments do whatever the heck they like.

JOSH PAUL: So, I mean, there are [01:25:00] laws of war. They're not always necessarily enforceable. And of course, the U. S. has prevented the Palestinians from seeking restorative justice or justice of any kind through the International Criminal Court. Um, so I think it's important to note that there are laws that apply, there are rules of conduct, and there are basic standards of human decency that apply.

I think at the end of the day, as you said, what we're talking about here is not, does not boil down, should not boil down to Israel right or wrong. What we're ultimately talking about is the right of civilians, whether they be Palestinian or Israeli, to live in peace, to feel secure in their homes. very much.

secure from rocket attacks and secure from F 16 drop precision guided munitions. And I hope that this administration, uh, can take a look at our own historic policies, uh, both, uh, in Israel and drawing from our experience in the region, not all of which is positive by any means, [01:26:00] um, and, and push Israel and push all the parties, uh, towards a solution that is more just and that provides the peace.

people who just want to live their everyday lives and raise their families deserve. 

LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, LAURA FLANDERS & FRIENDS: Like what? What would that solution look like? What would you propose right now if you still had your job inside the State Department? 

JOSH PAUL: So I think there are two streams there. One is with regards to the transfer of arms to Israel right now, which is of course what I was most directly involved in and what I retired over or resigned over.

Um, and with regards to that, again, I would, I would ask the Biden administration to follow its own laws, uh, its own policies that it has set and just to simply apply the same standard. In the same space for debate to Israel as it has permitted, uh, or encouraged, uh, for, for conflicts and for partners, uh, elsewhere in the world. 


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Now entering section B guns to Mexico.

Can Mexico win its battle with US gun companies? Part 2 - The Inquiry - Air Date 3-7-24

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: The Mexican case is now changing the assumptions in the sense that it is no longer straightforward or thought that the responsibility of the arms industry [01:27:00] stops at the store.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Mexico is the only country bringing the lawsuit against U. S. gun companies, but other nations are watching very closely. 

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: In Latin America, between 70 and 90 percent of gun deaths occur with firearms that come illegally trafficked from the United States. We see the same trends in Central America, in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador.

And also in the Caribbean and countries such as Jamaica.

Now Belize and Antigua and Barbuda have supported Mexico's claims in the U. S. courts by filing briefs directed to the judges who are looking into these cases and telling them that they have similar claims. Issues and similar concerns regarding the weapons that get to their jurisdictions to their territories from the United States.

Some of these countries might be interested in filing lawsuits against the same companies [01:28:00] in the U. S. courts if Mexico's bid for more accountability is successful. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: And lack success, if it happens, could be transformative. 

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: A win from Mexico in this case would fundamentally change the way in which gun manufacturers behave in three important ways.

Manufacture, marketing, and distribution. When it comes to manufacture, Mexico alleges that the way in which these products are made involves configurations that are easily modifiable to increase their lethality. Now Mexico would like these companies to produce these weapons in ways that makes it Very, very hard to convert them into higher caliber or repeat fire weapons.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: And just like the Sandy Hook lawsuit, the tone of gun company marketing is also in Mexico's sights. 

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: As for distribution Mexico has shown, through forensic evidence, that most of the firearms that are found in Mexican crime scenes are coming from a [01:29:00] cluster of gun stores that are situated along the border with Mexico in Arizona and Texas, mostly in the state of Arizona in Maricopa County.

Mexico has brought separate proceedings against the gun stores in Arizona for complicity in arms trafficking. And so the way in which Mexico is bringing this lawsuit By using both sides of the supply chain from, first of all, addressing the manufacturers in the federal courts in Boston, but also the gun stores in Arizona, is a strategy that might bring many actors across the supply chain into compliance.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Mexico's gun company civil lawsuit hasn't been tried in court yet, so there's still a way to go before we find out how it ends. 

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: The companies will have to present evidence, and so will Mexico, and that means that the case will go into a discovery phase, where the practices of the gun companies in terms of marketing, [01:30:00] production, and distribution will have to be disclosed.

This information will be able to be used by potential buyers. Victims and plaintiffs in other cases as well. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: If the lawsuit was settled, that would mean no trial and no public disclosure of confidential gun company documents. But the expectation is that won't happen here. 

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: And so Mexico, one of its main objectives with this litigation, is to bring out into the open the business practices which, according to Mexico, are negligent and which are affecting its citizens and causing loss of life within the United States and across the border.

For And without that disclosure of evidence, Mexico would not be interested in an out of court settlement. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: The Mexican government says the cost of the law enforcement response to the cartels is going up, while opportunities to boost income from tourism and foreign investment are being lost. It's suing the gun companies for 10 billion U.

S. dollars in damages. 

DR. LEON CASTELLANOS-JANKIEWICZ: It is highly [01:31:00] unlikely that the judge in any phase of this case would order the gun companies to pay that exorbitant sum. Of course, there will probably be some kind of figure that a judge will try to put on The reparations that are awarded to Mexico should they find in favor of that country.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: So can Mexico win its battle with U. S. gun companies?

It's managed to clear the immunity law that's blocked other legal actions. So that's definitely a win. But there's still a long way to go. The trial hasn't started, so we don't know what either side will produce. But the Mexican government needs compelling evidence to prove its claims against the U. S.

gun companies and what they know about trafficking. Mexico may have tough firearm laws, but as our expert witnesses have noted, its own border controls are far from robust. It's going to be a long and expensive process with no guarantee of success. Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit is [01:32:00] already making a mark.

Other countries are watching and waiting.

Ieva Jusionyte, "Exit Wounds: How America's Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border" (U California Press, 2024) - New Books Network - Air Date 4-15-24 

IEVA JUSIONYTE: Most journalists get into covering crime, uh, Almost involuntarily, or they, they fall into it because they are working on a different issue, maybe reporting on, on just community affairs or local politics, or in Juan's case, it was local business, um, in, in, in Nuevo Leon. And then when, uh, Violence erupted because there was this, um, more competition between organized crime groups that traffic drugs to the United States.

And this violence became more apparent in the communities that journalists were covering. They, that, that was just their new story that a lot of them began to pursue. Um, and, uh, it, it was, um, it's also one that once they started this work. It is [01:33:00] difficult to get out of it, despite the threats. So, um, one, they become invested in the story or committed to this issue, uh, that makes it difficult to kind of abandon because the story doesn't end.

They're the organized crime groups continue competing. The government continues. Being implicated in, in extrajudicial killing. So the story has been continuing for many years. It's, it doesn't end. And the journalists who began that beat also feel almost some of them, I would say, trapped in it. Uh, On the one hand, they do have the sources.

It's something they are already familiar with, but also, um, there was, by talking to them and talking to Juan in particular, there is something more to it. So Juan was telling me that he. He just got submerged into this world of the narco. So it's a, it's a dark, kind of dark, dark [01:34:00] beat that has a big, uh, impact on your, on your, um, mental health, on your family life.

But once you get into it, leaving it is, it's, it's hard. There is, there is something to say about leaving the adrenaline behind and the adrenaline of the beat. Yes. But it is also, um, something that. Although it haunts you, uh, you kind of, um, you're resigned to this that this is your life. This is what you are good at.

So I think maybe in a way it can, in some cases, be maybe similar to, to ethnography too. We just get, get used to and, um. It's hard to get out. 

REIGHAN GILLAM - HOST, NEW BOOKS NETWORK: And so in the book, um, another group of people that you feature are gun smugglers and the U. S. federal agents who investigate them and, um, who. Uh, track [01:35:00] them and hope to, to catch the smugglers.

Um, yet the border, it seems to present this problem for U. S. agents and that they don't have jurisdiction in Mexico. And so how much are these, you know, U. S. agents, um, how much can they accomplish, uh, around the flow of guns, you know, with, with their invests and arrests and with these investigations that they're undertaking?

IEVA JUSIONYTE: That's such a good question. So in, in the U. S., the main agency that's responsible for all federal gun crimes, sort of tracking guns, uh, investigating gun crimes, punishing, uh, gun dealers or gun traffickers that, uh, violate laws, it is the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. And it is one of the, least powerful agencies, very understaffed, uh, very, um, afraid of [01:36:00] politically, of political repercussions if they speak up and if they ask for more resources.

So in, um, I, I have one chapter in the book that, um, looks back at this operation, Fast and Furious, that became very politicized. Uh, and, uh, it was about ATF agents letting guns be trafficked to Mexico in order for them to figure out who are the ultimate buyers, where are these guns going to. Well, the fact is that they lost track of a lot of them and they lost track because Their jurisdiction, as you said, ended at the border.

Now they are much more careful. So they changed. Um, and I, when I tell the stories of these other agents that, that I got to, um, spend a lot of time with recently doing this research. So they don't let any guns cross the border. They try to intercept them at any cost before they get into [01:37:00] Mexico. But there is this mistrust between U.

S. and Mexico, between. authorities, um, the institutions. So it was in, in Mexico, there was very bad, um, um, memories of this operation. How could the U. S. government authorize sending guns to organized crime groups in Mexico? And there was no, nobody was really made responsible for that. And those guns are still in Mexico, but there were also other, other instances when the.

DEA agents, uh, Drug Enforcement Administration, they were working on some cases related to organized crime group members that were the Zetas, and they shared the information with their counterparts in Mexico. That information leaked, and this organized crime group executed a lot of people in, in Allende, Coahuila, which is another place I do write about in the book.

So there is both, um, There is this mistrust [01:38:00] both because of what U. S. agents did in the past and both also of how difficult it is to trust personnel in Mexican institutions that have these relations with organized crime. So it is, um, it is very difficult. Uh, at the same time, it is the only way, because gun guns, um, uh, kind of, they.

It's very difficult to solve an international trafficking crime only working in one country. Um, so I don't know, I, as an anthropologist, I don't know whether I can have, I can, uh, offer solutions for how they can, uh, increase cooperation, but that's definitely a, the only way forward. 


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: You have reached section C domestic gun policy.

Why America's police look like soldiers - Vox - Air Date 6-25-20 

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: In the 1980s, police in America looked more like this. The U. S. 's crime rate had been [01:39:00] doing this. And President Reagan called for the military to work more directly with the police for the war on drugs. 

PREIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Drugs are menacing our society. We must move to strengthen law enforcement activities.

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: Congress agreed, and over the next few years passed a series of bills to give police access to military bases and equipment, for the National Guard to assist police with drug operations, for the military and police to train together, and eventually to have the military loan police departments their excess leftover equipment for free.

This would become known as the 1033 program. Police departments got assault rifles like M 16s, armored trucks, and even grenade launchers. This And before long, it started to have an effect on how police police. We can see that in the number of times SWAT teams were used. Departments that had deployed them about once a month in the 80s were using them more than 80 times a year by 1995.

Almost all of these appointments were for drug related search warrants, [01:40:00] usually forced entry searches called no knock warrants. The police were becoming militarized, and people noticed. This 1997 article said it made police look like an occupying army.

In February of 1997, two men robbed a bank in North Hollywood, Los Angeles. They had automatic rifles and body armor. The police didn't. 


the time it ended, a dozen police officers were injured. In the aftermath of the shootout, California police demanded they be equipped with assault rifles, like the AR 15.

But so did police in places from Florida to Connecticut. And that same year, the 1033 program was expanded, dropping the requirement that police departments use the equipment for drug related enforcement. Now any law enforcement, even university police, could access leftover military weapons for any reason.[01:41:00] 

A retired police chief in Connecticut told the New York Times, I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted. Because complete records on these loans weren't kept until 2015, we don't know exactly how much equipment was given out in those early years. But we do have data on how much of it police departments still have, from each year it was given out.

And you can see a steady growth in the program for most of the 90s and 2000s. And then something happens around here. 

PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA: The rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. 

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: In 2011, the U. S. military formally withdrew its troops from Iraq. That meant the military had a lot of equipment, and one less war to use it on.

So it became available to the police. This is a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, or MRAP. It's among the most controversial equipment given out under the 1033 program. And we know from the data that police departments still have several hundred of them that they got in [01:42:00] 2013 and 2014, but none from 2015.

That's because in August of 2014, the 1033 program became national news. 

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: We just said hands up, don't shoot! And they just started shooting! 

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: A police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, had shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. Afterwards, the community's protests were met by heavily militarized police, who pointed sniper rifles at them as they marched.

Tear gas in armored tanks became a familiar sight in Ferguson, Missouri. The 

PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA: police departments around the country have been getting a lot of this type of equipment. 

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: President Obama responded with an executive order curbing the 1033 program. 

PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA: We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like There's an occupying force as opposed to a force that's part of the community that's protecting them and serving them.

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: Two years later, President Trump's administration reversed it. 

JEFF SESSIONS: We will not put superficial concerns about public safety. 

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: But by that point, the 1033 [01:43:00] program had become a lot less important anyway. This chart shows that by 2016, most MRAPs loaned out their funds. went to smaller police departments. That means when larger cities today have MRAPs and other military gear, it's often because they've bought it themselves.

And that's because police having military gear and weapons no longer depends on any one government program. It's now a part of how police see themselves. 

ARTHUR RIZER: But the thing that I think is really important is with that equipment comes a certain mentality. 

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: This is Arthur Reiser. He's a former military police officer, former civilian police officer, and now studies police militarization.

A big part of his research is about that mentality. And he shared a poll he did of police officers with us. 

ARTHUR RIZER: I asked officers, you know, do you have any problem with police officers routinely on patrol carrying military grade equipment or dressing in military type of uniforms? And the vast majority of those officers told me, no, I [01:44:00] have no problem with that.

And then the second question I asked is, do you think it changes the way that officers feel about themselves and their role in policing? And the vast majority of officers again said, Yes, and what they said was it makes them more aggressive, more assertive, and it can make them more violent. And then finally, I asked them, How do you think the public perceives you?

And the vast majority said it scares them. They know that it scares the public. They know that it makes them more aggressive or more assertive. And that can be dangerous. But they don't seem to care.

MADELINE MARSHALL - HOST, VOX: There are definitely times when it's been more clearly beneficial for the police to have this equipment. For example, during the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, Orlando police used an armored military vehicle to stop the shooter. But those moments tend to be the exception. Today, this equipment is still mostly used by SWAT teams for executing drug related search warrants.

And more than [01:45:00] half of those are still no knock warrants. The kind that Louisville police were executing when they killed Breonna Taylor. And in the case of the Ferguson protests, the Department of Justice found that the heavily militarized presence served to escalate rather than de escalate the overall situation.

The military and the police are supposed to serve different purposes. A military protects an us from a them. A police officer is supposed to be a part of the us. But when police think of themselves as soldiers, that can change. 

ARTHUR RIZER: What is the police officer gonna do with an assault rifle when he's facing a protest?

You know, seriously, when you give someone a hammer, why are you surprised that everything looks like a nail to them?

Why US gun laws get looser after mass shootings - Vox - Air Date 7-28-22

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: In 2020, a study tried to determine the impact of mass shootings on gun policy. They looked at 25 years of high profile mass shootings. Then they looked at gun legislation passed during that time. Over 3, 000 laws [01:46:00] across all 50 states. When they took a closer look at those laws, a pattern emerged that, at first, seemed unsurprising.

State legislatures controlled by Democrats were more likely to pass tighter gun laws. Republican controlled states typically loosened gun laws. But they found a key difference. Mass shootings didn't have any statistically significant effect on the number of laws passed by Democrats. While for Republican legislatures, a mass shooting roughly doubles the number of laws enacted that loosen gun restrictions in the next year.

JAMES BARRAGAN: To arm more teachers, for example, or arm more school staff. 

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: That's James Varagan, a politics reporter at the Texas Tribune. 

JAMES BARRAGAN: There is more access to guns afterwards. A state like Texas would go more towards pro gun policies in the aftermath of a gun shooting. 

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Texas has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation, and that matters for people all over the country.

JAMES BARRAGAN: People probably don't know about the importance of, [01:47:00] uh, state gun laws and really state laws in general. Our gun laws at the federal level had been frozen in time since basically the 1990s, which allowed the states to have a much bigger role and a much bigger influence in how gun culture played out in their jurisdictions.

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Let's look at Texas. In 1991, a gunman killed 23 people at a Luby's restaurant in Killian, Texas. A woman there named Susanna Hub lost both her parents in the shooting. She believed she could have stopped the massacre and turned her experience into a crusade for loosening gun laws. 

SUZANNE GRATIA: I'm mad at my legislators for legislating me out of the right to protect myself and my family.

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: It worked. In 1994, Texas elected a new governor, George W. Bush, who made it legal to carry a concealed gun his first year in office, and set off a trend in the state that's continued for decades. For example, in 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting drew [01:48:00] attention to gun laws across the country, Texas responded a few months later by creating a program allowing some school employees to carry guns in school.

In 2017, a gunman killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Within two years, Texas made it legal to carry weapons in places of worship. But after the Santa Fe High School shooting, Governor Greg Abbott did something unusual. He asked lawmakers to consider a red flag law, which would allow authorities to take firearms away from a person courts deemed dangerous.

JAMES BARRAGAN: Uh, that is not something that Republicans in this state often do. 

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Flo and Scott were also pushing for legislation in response to Santa Fe, like laws that would hold parents accountable if their guns were used by their children to harm people. They also pushed to make it harder to buy ammunition online.

FLO RICE: Our shooter, he just checked a box and said, yes, I'm 18, and they delivered it to his [01:49:00] doorstep. You can't get alcohol delivered without showing proof of ID or something, but he ordered ammunition. 

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Their hope for stricter laws was in line with Texas public opinion. Polling showed only a small minority of Texans supported loosening gun laws, and just over half supported tightening them.

FLO RICE: We thought it was common sense that this would be done. 

SCOT RICE: They came to Flo's hospital room the week of the shooting. And we had the governor, lieutenant governor, we had congressmen, we had senators, their wives, there's chief of staff all in her room at one time, at least 20 people and said, we're going to take care of you.

We promise we'll be there for you. We'll fix this. 

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: But in the end, these proposals, along with Abbott's openness to red flag laws, went nowhere. 

JAMES BARRAGAN: After gun rights supporters went after him, the gun culture is strong. But the gun lobby itself also exerts a lot of pressure on Texas politicians. 

FLO RICE: There were bills that were put out there, but they [01:50:00] never made it out of committee.

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Later in 2019, two shootings in West Texas just weeks apart prompted Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to suggest another tighter gun policy, closing background check loopholes. 

JAMES BARRAGAN: That is a very strong comment from a lieutenant governor who is very pro guns, who is very friendly with the NRA. But Republican leaders were saying, we may have problems here.

Democrats are pushing to take over the state house. That For the first time since 2003. 

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: After elections were over, with Republicans still in control, in 2021, Texas passed constitutional carry. There would no longer be a requirement for Texans to have a license or receive any training to openly carry handguns.

FLO RICE: For me, it's very scary because if I see someone in public with a gun, I will panic. Um, that's going to send me into an anxiety attack. 

JAMES BARRAGAN: That constitutional carry law that, uh, the state legislature passed in 2021 had been rejected by [01:51:00] Republican leaders. But as, uh, the Republican party has gone further and further to the right on issues, you get a fringe of the party that is much more vocal about, uh, all kinds of issues, including gun rights.

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: In recent years, a better organized gun control movement has seen more success with tightening laws in some states. But the movement to expand gun access isn't stopping. In 2002, fewer than half of the 50 states had one party in control of both the state legislature and the governor's office. Today, three quarters of the states do.

That means in the places where Republicans or Democrats have full control, they can push through new gun laws with little chance of a veto. 

JAMES BARRAGAN: So what happens, um, and you see it in state house to state house, is one state passes a law that is very successful for one side of the aisle. And then, um, Another state house adopts a very, very similar law.

RANJANI CHAKRABORTY - HOST, VOX: Remember that constitutional carry [01:52:00] law in Texas? Today, 24 states have similar laws on the books for that, too. And more than 400 local governments across 20 states have adopted variations on a Second Amendment sanctuary law, meaning a city, town, or county refuses to recognize any state or federal gun laws.

that they believe violate the Second Amendment. 

JAMES BARRAGAN: These things get replicated, they get cloned, they go from state to state, and they essentially make up this patchwork of laws throughout the country.

Closing credits 5-21-24

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: That's going to be it for today. As always, keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about today's topic or anything else you like. You can leave a voicemail or send us a text at (202) 999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. The additional sections of the show included clips from Deconstructed, Laura Flanders and Friends, The Inquiry, New Books Network, and VOX. Further details are in the show notes. 

Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin [01:53:00] Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our transcriptionist quartet Ken, Brian, Ben, and Andrew for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work behind the scenes and her bonus show co-hosting. 

And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at BestofTheLeft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast App. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny weekly bonus episodes in addition to there being no ads and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community. Where you can continue the discussion. 

So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC. 

My name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from [01:54:00] BestOfTheLeft.com.

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