Archive for the ‘American news’ Category

If you’re lucky, maybe you missed the media’s coverage of the FBI’s capture of a wannabe terrorist in Portland last week. 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud was trying to detonate a fake bomb the FBI gave him at  Christmas tree lighting in Portland. That’s right–the FBI provided the fake bomb. The FBI was stoking this guy all the way along, in yet another case of entrapment that should be all too familiar to people who remember the supposedly foiled terrorist attacks against Wrigley Field and the Washington Metro this fall.

The FBI and their pals in the media are quite good at using these “events” for propaganda. It usually goes like this–the FBI busts the schmuck, the media trumpets Our Brave Heroes and The Evil Muslim for a day, and then, just as the real journalists are starting to say “Hey, wait a minute…this was entrapment,” the case has a funny way of falling out of the headlines. The NYT did give entrapment a bit of coverage this time around, presumably since this is the third time it has happened in a few months and they love trend stories. Of course, if you are the average American who sees a promo for the 11 o’clock news during “Dancing with the Stars,” all you would ever know is that the FBI “foiled” a plot–exactly what they would want you to know.

This Mohamud case is especially crazy. For one thing, the FBI has nearly all of their interactions with him taped, EXCEPT for the one moment where they actually needed to establish intentionality. In fact, they have two tapes of most of their interactions. But at that one moment, boy howdy, wouldn’t you know it, that recorder up and failed! The second thing I find insane is that, according to Glenn Greenwald’s article that I first heard discussed on Free Talk Live, Mohamud had been scheduled to go to Alaska as a seasonal fishery worker this summer. And boy howdy, wouldn’t you know it, he was on the federal no-fly list, so he had no choice but to remain jobless in Portland where his FBI entrapment pals were happy to offer him a stipend.

Now, mind you, I’m not trying to defend Mohamud. He is a loser who wanted to kill a lot of innocent people. He sucks. But there is little evidence to indicate he would have been up to this without the FBI’s support, especially if he had flown off to Alaska this summer and hadn’t been tempted by their money.

The one good thing about this case was that it proved to be a big, fat pinata for Glenn Greenwald. Probably the best thing Greenwald points out is that even if Mohamud had been a real terrorist, the reason he gave the FBI informants (and it’s also worth mentioning that FBI informants like the convicted forger mentioned in this story can get paid $140k+ a year tax-free to be agents provocateurs in mosques) for wanting to blow up a bunch of innocent people was that he saw it as retaliation for what American troops and drones are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq right now. Oh, blowback. What a novel idea. Maybe it’s time America stopped behaving like the big, dumb imperialist bully that it is and brought the troops home.

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If you’ve read this blog more than once, you know I am a harsh critic of the police. I deeply distrust them. I resent them for using force against a great number of peaceful people. I am tired of the way they hide behind their badges and appeal to fear whenever we criticize them. But last night, I witnessed a heartening episode involving the Seattle police.

As I was catching up on news last night, I heard someone yelling out in the street. It sounded like a drunk person singing and carrying on, so I ignored it.

I was in the kitchen making dinner later when I heard the yelling again–heard the yelling and saw the yeller, not more than forty feet from my kitchen window. He was a shabby fellow, accompanied by an equally shabby woman. Together they sat on the stairs of a nearby law office, presumably drinking. When passersby attracted his attention, the man would spring up and yell at them. The comments were worst and crudest when they were directed at women. This guy was beginning to upset me since he was on private property and menacing innocent people.

I considered going out and telling him to stop or risk me calling the cops on him. I figured he was mentally ill, homeless, drunk and/or high, so I didn’t really want to see him punished. Eventually he broke a bottle in the street, ticking me off even more. I was about to go outside when two police cruisers pulled up.

“Oh boy,” thought I. “This is about to get interesting.”

Instead, it was boring in all the right ways. The cops talked to the guy and his lady. There was no yelling or physical contact. I think they ran an ID check on them. After about five minutes, they told the two to move along or else the same person who called the cops before would call again. The cops left, followed shortly thereafter by the yeller and his girl. Crisis averted.

I was impressed by how the two SPD officers handled this case. This guy did not look like he needed any more bad favor from society. Yes, he was being a jerk, but putting him in a jail cell wouldn’t have helped. Seattle police have had their share of problems before, most recently in the flagrantly disturbing killing of the half-deaf whittler John Williams, but what these two did yesterday was law enforcement done right–a perfect example of the difference between police officers and peace officers.

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The National Post did a nice two-parter on stadium construction in Canada this weekend. Much as it’s a problem north of the border, I think we have it just as bad if not worse down here–Nick Gillespie at Reason did a great blog post on my hometown of Cincinnati and the struggles it is facing to come up with the money for the $1 billion it spent on new football and baseball stadiums last decade. $1 billion in a mid-size Midwestern city redistributed from taxpayers to team owners after the team owners threatened to pull up stakes…and we wonder why Cincinnati is in trouble.

The first National Post article is mainly a rundown of new stadium construction in Canada. Just about every major city is either building a new stadium or upgrading an old one. I can’t believe that my beloved Vancouver is spending $465 million to install a retractable roof on an already-existing stadium. You could build a whole new stadium for that much money! On the bright side, at least Montreal isn’t throwing any more money at maybe the greatest stadium boondoggle ever, the $1.6 billion, 30-years-to-pay-off Olympic Stadium.

The second article is an analytical piece headlined “Our new cathedrals: But are arenas and stadiums a boon to cities?” Money quote, from a sports economist:

“There’s no doubt that when you walk around [Toronto’s] Rogers Centre, you see a lot of economic activity,” he said. “But it’s not new economic activity. People have an entertainment budget, and all this does is concentrate that activity at one place at one time.”

Bingo! It’s just taking money from some restaurant and bar owners to subsidize business for restaurant and bar owners in another part of the city. They didn’t even cite one of the most damning stats of all, quoted in Gillespie’s blog post–that having a pro sports team in your area costs each person about $40 in yearly GDP.

I love sports. They’re the only thing I watch on tv. I’ve been to tons of games over the years, mainly because I was lucky enough to grow up around two pro sports teams in Cincinnati. But the sports fans of the world need to get together and say “no more.” Building new stadiums with more luxury boxes might lead to more revenue for our favorite teams and higher payrolls as a result, but these new stadiums are sucking our communities dry and pricing many fans out of attending at all. They also become big concrete monstrosities that spend the vast majority of their time unoccupied and take up valuable real estate in our downtowns. So enough is enough–read my lips, no new stadiums!

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I think I know this country pretty well, yet I didn’t know that there is a statute of limitations on consumer debt. NYT:

The statute of limitations for debt varies by state, generally from three to 10 years. In many states, collectors can restart the clock if they can persuade the consumer to make even a tiny payment toward the old debt. Debt collectors generally do not tell consumers that making a payment will revive the debt so it can be legally pursued.

As if the credit card system wasn’t already full of enough moral hazards, let’s throw this one on the pile, too. I’m saddened that the NYT story seems to come down more on the side of the debtors. The fact that debt collection agencies buy up the right to out-of-statute debt cases for pennies on the dollar in the hope that they can make back their money and more by wringing it out of consumers who are technically in the clear is sort of unseemly, but it’s no worse than people thinking they can get something for nothing if they are stubborn enough. (more…)

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Chicago Tribune reports on the faculty review of the firing of a University of Illinois professor last year. Why was he fired?

Howell taught classes on Catholicism. He was fired at the end of the spring semester after a class discussion of the Catholic prohibition of homosexual sex. Howell has told students that, as a Catholic, he agrees with it and says he’s always been open with students about his beliefs.

A friend of an unidentified student complained in a May 13 e-mail to Robert McKim, head of the religion department, that Howell’s stance amounted to “hate speech.” The e-mail led to Howell’s firing.

Ok, first of all–let’s resolve to get rid of the expression “hate speech.” Speech is speech. Hateful or loving, insane or rational, imbecilic or intelligent–in this country, we believe in freedom of speech.  All of it. (more…)

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Via Andrew Sullivan, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi (confession: I am a huge Taibbi fan, going back to his eXile days) weighs in on the Michael Hastings vs. establishment journalists issue. You should read the whole thing, but I’ll select out the conclusion for the lazy:

[Establishment politicians] don’t need your help, and you’re giving it to them anyway, because you just want to be part of the club so so badly. Disgustingly, that’s really what it comes down to. Most of these reporters just want to be inside the ropeline so badly, they want to be able to say they had that beer with Hillary Clinton in a bowling alley in Scranton or whatever, that it colors their whole worldview. God forbid some important person think you’re not playing for the right team!

Meanwhile, the people who don’t have the resources to find out the truth and get it out in front of the public’s eyes, your readers/viewers, you’re supposed to be working for them — and they’re not getting your help. What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan? Is it worth all the bloodshed and the hatred? Who are the people running this thing, what is their agenda, and is that agenda the same thing we voted for? By the severely unlikely virtue of a drunken accident we get a tiny glimpse of an answer to some of these vital questions, but instead of cheering this as a great break for our profession, a waytago moment, one so-called reputable journalist after another lines up to protest the leak and attack the reporter for doing his job. God, do you all suck!

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That’s what Glenn Greenwald has been doing this week on behalf of Rolling Stone‘s MacChrystal profile writer Michael Hastings specifically and investigative, anti-establishment, speak-truth-to-power journalism more generally. His piece today is here and well worth your while…it even includes video clips if that’s your cup of tea. Money quote:

Yesterday, Hastings was interviewed on CNN’s Reliable Sources about the criticisms he has received from media figures over his article, and that was followed by a segment with CBS’ Lara Logan, who lambasted him.  I really recommend watching these two segments (video below), as they illustrate the two poles of journalism:  those who view their role as exposing the relevant secrets of the powerful (Hastings) and those who view their role as protecting those secrets and serving the interests of those officials (Logan).  Amazingly, Logan sounds like the most devoted member of McChyrstal’s P.R. staff or even his family:  so furious is she that Hastings would publish an article that reflected negatively on this Fine, Great Man (whom she supposedly covers) — so devoted is she to the interests of this military official — that, at one point, she drops the neutral journalist mask and shows her Bill Kristol face, and actually spat:  “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.”

Greenwald is spot on. When journalists are concerned about self-preservation and continued access to their sources, chances are they aren’t providing us the sort of journalism we need to keep a free society going. Seeing the reaction to the Hastings story just makes me wonder how many stories on Guantanamo Bay, Iraqi WMDs, Abu Ghraib, civilian casualties at U.S. hands and other huge issues have been held back or watered down. There’s already the rumor that the WaPo sat on the video of the American Apache helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians posted on Wikileaks for more than a year.

Yet more coverage has probably been devoted to the OMG LIBERALZ RUN TEH PRESS!!! Dave Weigel firing.

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Any university would be proud to welcome Sarah “I attended four colleges in six years” Palin as a speaker, right? Maybe she wasn’t much of a student, but she worked hard, you betcha! And gosh darnit, at least she peppers her speeches with witty, trenchant commentary on the contemporary world! So imagine how pleased the campus community at Cal State-Stanislaus must have been to welcome the Thrilla from Wasilla to their campus this weekend. (more…)

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Western civilization has contributed many of the world’s best ideas on liberty, freedom, individual rights and government. The ideas passed down to us by our ancestors have helped make our societies livable, prosperous, free and perhaps most telling of all, eminently desirable to immigrants. But somewhere along the line, our traditional understanding of freedom stopped being good enough for Westerners. Westerners moved from our older focus on “negative” freedoms, freedoms that gave us some sort of guarantee against government such as freedom from religious persecution, freedom from censorship of speech and freedom from unfair trials, to a new focus on “positive” freedoms, freedoms that give us some sort of guarantee from government such as social welfare (freedom from want) and nationalized health insurance (freedom from need). This positive vs. negative freedom thread popped up in more than a few news stories today, which you can follow after the jump. (more…)

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NYT reports on how hate crimes laws are now being used to ramp up prosecution efforts against people who defraud the elderly. Setting the scene:

In the public’s imagination, the classic hate crime is an assault born of animus against a particular ethnicity or sexual orientation, like the case of the Long Island man convicted in April of killing an Ecuadorean immigrant after hunting for Hispanics to beat up.

But in Queens since 2005, at least five people have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, committing a very different kind of hate crime — singling out elderly victims for nonviolent crimes like mortgage fraud because they believed older people would be easy to deceive and might have substantial savings or home equity.

Got your barf bag ready?

The legal thinking behind the novel method is that New York’s hate crimes statute does not require prosecutors to prove defendants “hate” the group the victim belongs to, merely that they commit the crime because of some belief, correct or not, they hold about the group.

So if John goes around punching teenagers because John think teenagers are stupid, can John be convicted of a hate crime? He doesn’t hate them, he just believes they are stupid. Do you see how fraught with peril  this could be?

On a more general scale, hate crimes laws are well-intentioned, but so arbitrary to judge and difficult to enforce that they should probably go away. If person A of race A beats up person B of race B, who determines whether person A did it because person B was of race B or because person B was being a jerk? To me, a crime is a crime. The law should be blind to anything but the readily determined facts. If you murder an old person because you hate old people, you would be more morally repugnant to me than the average murderer, but no more or less guilty of the crime.

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