The charges involve forgery, fraud, and perjury. The prosecution alleges that the two signed candidacy materials under false pretenses, forms which require people to acknowledge that they are under oath to provide truthful and accurate information. If they signed the forms themselves under the names of people who didn’t know what the two Democrats were doing, those charges should be easy to prove in court. The two will face years in prison.
The question will be whether this was part of a larger operation to dilute the ballot to help Democrats, a scheme that failed anyway. If McGuiness and Bauer end up facing the long end of a 14-year sentence, they may be highly motivated to tell prosecutors about any wider plans in Michigan to defraud voters. Fox notes that the grand jury continues to probe this even after the indictments against the two Oakland County Democratic Party leaders, which might mean more indictments will be forthcoming. We will definitely keep an eye out for further developments.
To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never had a blogger indicted for election fraud before. The trailblazer in this case is Oakland County, Michigan Democratic Chair Mike McGuinness (along with Operations Director Jason Bauer); they’re charged with forging election documents to get fake “Tea Party” candidates on Michigan ballots. Up to twenty-three statewide races may have been affected by the fraud: the authorities are definitely looking into just how far the rot goes in the Michigan Democratic party. The two have been charged with nine felonies: if convicted, McGuinness and Bauer face up to 14 years in jail.
I’m not being entirely nasty by calling this a milestone, by the way: this is a pretty significant indication that blogging has become a way for people to enter the political world and take positions of some power and influence there. After all, McGuinness, as Gateway Pundit helpfully reminds us, was until 2008 a blogger for the Michigan Liberal site; the fact that McGuinness was also (allegedly) just another corrupt progressive suckweasel who (allegedly) defecated all over the very principles of free and open elections that he (allegedly) supported shouldn’t deter other people from also getting involved in politics on the local and state level. Just don’t be a corrupt progressive suckweasel, that’s all.
UPDATE: The Michigan Liberal blog wrote in with this. Apparently, Democrat McGuinness was not being honest about his life as a blogger.
My name is Eric Baerren. I’m the editor of Michigan Liberal. I just caught your blog post about Michael McGuinness, where you asserted that Mr. McGuinness was somehow ever a representative of Michigan Liberal.
I’ve been the site’s editor since 2007, was involved in its operation for a year before that, and know well its history. For the record, Michael McGuinness has never been a blogger at Michigan Liberal. He had an account there, as do people at lots of websites, but the tone of your sentence makes it appear that he had a much larger role than he ever did (it would be like my asserting that someone who comments on your blog who is arrested and charged with child molestation is somehow a representative of Gateway Pundit). In fact, the story you linked to in Michigan Messenger that mentioned that Mr. McGuiness was a liberal blogger never in fact mentioned where he blogged.
Dear Eric Baerren,
Thanks for the information. It’s a shame that Mr. McGuinness did not blog at Michigan Liberal. I’m sure he would have fit right in.
I wonder if this story will get the attention it deserves. The story more or less speaks for itself, though one element left unexplained in the story is the offices involved in the scheme. It involves local leaders of the Democratic Party in Michigan and their creative efforts to split the anti-Democratic vote in the 2010 election
Democrats in several states did similar things. “Independent” candidates had an interesting way of popping up in key Massachusetts congressional races, as I recall. But apparently these Michigan Democrats were so careless they actually broke the law.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet have ended the automatic restoration of voting and other civil rights to nonviolent felons once their sentences are up.
Sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, they voted 4-0 on Wednesday to change the panel’s rules and require at least a five-year waiting period before ex-convicts can apply to get their rights back.
“If you’re convicted … you lost those rights,” Scott said at a news conference later in the day. “There ought to be a process to get those rights back.”
Law enforcement officials and state prosecutors favored the change, saying people who have broken the law need a waiting period to prove themselves.
Civil rights advocates called the new rule a step backward, tantamount to double punishment.
The change is effective immediately and potentially affects anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 felons, experts said.
Now felons will have to wait five years after completing a sentence to apply for rights restoration. This will return Florida to the Jim Crow era, when such hurdles were created to prevent blacks from voting.
Make no mistake: This proposal has racial and partisan implications.
A disproportionate number of Florida’s felons are African American, and in this state, blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The Cabinet has further alienated black voters by adopting these more-stringent restoration rules. What purpose does that serve the state or the Republican Party?
In the last decade, more than 20 states have eased the restoration process for people convicted of crimes. Florida should remain in this group of enlightened states. Instead it has gone back a century. It now has joined only two other states — Kentucky and Virginia — in requiring waiting periods and hearings before felons can get their rights restored.
If anything, the Cabinet should have considered more streamlining measures for clemency. The Florida Parole Commission investigates clemency applications, and it has always struggled with huge backlogs. For a time the Corrections Department even loaned some staffers to tackle the backlog.
Clemency application reviews still move at a snail’s pace, delaying justice for felons who have paid their debt to society. The Commission recently told the Legislature that it has a growing backlog of more than 100,000 cases.
Making felons who have served their time wait years to regain their rights has nothing to do with being tough on crime. By embracing this regressive proposal, the governor and Cabinet have sent Florida back to a shameful time of blatant racial prejudice.
Cleveland State University Urban Studies Associate Professor Ronnie Dunn has written extensively on how, since the advent of the Jim Crow era, unfair laws have been enacted— particularly in Southern states—to deny blacks the right to vote. Writing in a soon-to-be-released handbook on prisoner reentry, he describes how poll taxes, literacy tests, and property ownership were devices routinely used to suppress the black vote and unfairly affect election outcomes.
Florida now joins two other states, Kentucky and Virginia, in having the most severe restrictions on former felons voting and other rights, such as serving on juries and holding certain professional licenses. Five black Florida lawmakers joined a chorus of civil-rights advocates in objecting to the rule changes, saying no evidence existed that the abandoned process, which was approved by former Gov. Charlie Crist and the former cabinet in 2007, was not working.
“It’s really not about what’s right or fair,” said Ken Lumpkin, an attorney and political activist in Cleveland. “This is about stealing elections and hurting an individual’s chances of starting over after prison. If felons had had the franchise in Florida back in 2000, over a million more people would have been eligible to vote, and the election would not have been close enough for the Supreme Court to give it to Bush. What this new governor is doing is rolling back the clock on minority rights. And with Republican governors and legislative majorities in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, no one should be surprised if they try to change the rules in those states also. If that happens, a Democratic candidate for president won’t stand a chance.”
Indeed, incoming Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, among other changes, wants to stop county boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots to voters and limit the window of time they have to cast them. Democrats, however, charge that Husted’s proposals are designed to discourage voting, especially in big urban counties.
Ohio State Rep. Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus), the former director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said it would be “bad public policy” to prevent county boards from soliciting and paying postage for absentee ballots. The service, he said, alleviated long lines at polling places (such as those that marred the county’s 2004 presidential election) that caused some elderly voters to walk away without voting.
Back in Florida, state NAACP Vice Chairman Dale Landry said that individuals who have completed their sentences have paid their debt to society in full and should be allowed to vote. “Why do we come back and impose a further penalty?” he asked. “What we’re saying is that… the state wants to impose further sentencing, an additional penalty. That’s exactly what was done here.”
This posting is about the HEADLINE (not whether you agree or disagree with the underlying law. People can differ on whether the law is a good one or not, appropriate or not.)
Headlines are to grab attention — but there is a point when they are simply irresponsible and trying to stir up hate and problems. I think the headline below “FLORIDA’S RACIST NEW LAW” is exactly that – irresponsible and trying to stir up problems and hate. The headline DID catch my attention since for many, many, many years prior to TV, I represented a lot of poor African Americans and often in issues involving civil rights.
Upon reading the explosive (I think it explosive) headline, I wanted to know more about “FLORIDA’S RACIST NEW LAW” — and so I read the article. I bet many just read the article and stop there — thus left with the impression that Florida is racist (or those who support the law are.) In actually reading the article, I see that the author writes “[b]ut whether the move was simply tough-on-crime posturing or something more nefarious remains an open question.
You have to dig deep into the article for the “open question” while the RACISM was in bigger, bolder letters in the headline. So what was a PRONOUNCEMENT of FACT in the headline of RACISM (and sure to cause many people to be deeply disturbed) now remains “AN OPEN QUESTION” as to whether the law was a “tough on crime posturing or something more nefarious” (eg racism.) There is a big difference between being “tough on crime” and being a racist.
Florida governor Rick Scott and his cabinet have ended the policy of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, of automatically reenfranchising felons upon their release from prison. The ACLU et al. are outraged, but it’s the right decision: Those who have demonstrated that they won’t follow the law shouldn’t be allowed automatically to make the law for everyone else; rather, they should have that right reinstated only after they’ve shown that they have indeed turned over a new leaf, as I’ve discussed on NRO many times — for example, here. Kudos to Governor Scott.
Given the scale of the injustices and barbarism that characterise large parts of the criminal justice system in many, perhaps even most, American states denying former felons the right to vote once they have been returned to society may seem a minor concern. Nevertheless it is a telling one and something that should shame those states that still bar ex-cons from voting.I’d have thought it an obvious principle of natural justice that we take the view that once released a prisoner should be considered a free man or woman. True, there are certain limited caveats to this (sex offender registries being the most glaring) and some jobs may reasonably (or reasonably in many cases) be considered unsuitable for former felons but none of that has any bearing on the question of whether released prisoners should be permitted to vote.
Clegg links to a piece he wrote elaborating upon this view that ex-cons shouldn’t be permitted one of the most fundamental rights we have to grant. But this is all he has to say:
It is frequently asserted that felons released from prison should be able to vote because they have “paid their debt to society.” But the felon-vote movement will, if pressed, admit that they think felons in prison should be allowed to vote, too. And society is not obliged to ignore someone’s criminal record just because he has been released from prison. Felons are barred by federal law from possessing firearms, for example.
Is that it? Apparently so. Ex-cons can’t be permitted to vote because that’s the slippery slope to letting serving inmates vote too. Colour me unpersuaded. This argument, however, leads one to wonder whether it is in fact possible for felons to “pay their debt to society”? And if they have not done so – as the denial of voting rights suggests they must not have done – then why are they being released in the first place? That, at any rate, would seem to be the logic of this matter. It’s a grim and pitiless worldview.Of course there’s the possibility that other motives are at play, namely that for a number of reasons ex-cons may be more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. But let us put that unworthy thought to one side and simply note that denying ex-felons the franchise is a further punishment that’s above and beyond and entirely unrelated to the crimes which led to their incarceration. I’m amazed, actually, that it’s Constitutional to do so.
No, it’s just one more example of a criminal justice system that, alas, should shame the United States. This is not a question of liberalism or conservatism but of decency. There are many things the Americans do better than us but thank god we don’t have their criminal justice or prison systems.
Incidentally, anyone with any interest in these matters should follow Radley Balko’s work. (And actually the New York Times should have given him an op-ed column years ago.)
A Milan judge on Tuesday ordered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of prostitution and abuse of office, dealing the most serious blow to his leadership in the 17 years that he has dominated Italian politics.
In a brief statement the judge said the trial would start on April 6. Mr. Berlusconi faces charges that he paid for sex with an under-age nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby Heart-Stealer, and abused his office to help release her from police custody when she was detained for theft. The scandal has dominated political debate in Italy for months.
Mr. Berlusconi denies wrongdoing and has said he has no intention of stepping down. But in an increasingly tense climate after large anti-Berlusconi demonstrations on Sunday, analysts said the judge’s ruling makes it nearly impossible for the prime minister to govern and all but guarantees early national elections.
“The situation is more political than judicial now,” said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. He predicted that in the short term Mr. Berlusconi would hold on, but “in the middle-term it’s an unsustainable situation.”
EARLIER today a judge in Milan, Cristina Di Censo, indicted Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on charges relating to his alleged use of prostitutes. She said he should be tried for paying an underage prostitute and then attempting to cover up the alleged offence by taking advantage of his official position, which is itself an offence in Italy.
But Ms Di Censo did more than just indict Mr Berlusconi. She accepted, in full, arguments put forward by the prosecution that have potentially devastating implications for Mr Berlusconi (who denies any wrongdoing). First, she agreed with them that, because of “the obviousness of the evidence” they had gathered against him, he should be put on trial without a preliminary hearing. The full trial is due to begin on April 6th, and by a twist of fate (or, as Mr Berlusconi’s followers will no doubt contend, malevolent design) all three judges at the trial will be women.
That development seemed particularly resonant against a background of protests by Italian women against Mr Berlusconi and the entrenched machismo his female critics see him as representing. On Sunday, several hundreds of thousands took to piazzas around Italy to demonstrate “for a country that respects women”.
Their protest was the latest challenge to a prime minister whose personal popularity has fallen significantly since the scandal broke last October. Mr Berlusconi also faces daily problems attempting to get legislation through parliament following a walk-out by some of his followers last year.
On Sunday thousands took to the streets in Italian cities and worldwide in coordinated demonstrations that organizers said were aimed at restoring the dignity of Italian women amid the latest sex scandal and after years in which Mr. Berlusconi has routinely appointed television showgirls to political office.
No misogyny there. And how about Berlusconi’s lawyer’s take?
Noting that Mr. Berlusconi would be tried before a panel of three women judges, he said: “Great. Women are always appreciated, sometimes even agreeable,” the center-left daily La Repubblica reported.
Makes me wish I understood Italian so I could follow every twist and turn being reported in the Italian media.
Despite the scandals, the angry women, and the splitting of his political coalition, Berlusconi has managed to hold onto power. Why? The Guardian’s Alexander Chancellor says it’s because he’s a master salesman. “When he was building his media empire,” Chancellor says, he demanded his sales team have “the sun in their pockets”–they had to be sunny, smiling, non-smoking, mustache-free. The rules made Berlusconi billions. And now, despite the bad headlines, “Berlusconi still has the sun in his pocket. Addressing political rallies, he always looks hopeful, confident, and in charge. … He may have fallen from grace among many women and Catholics, but most men, apart from those of the left, seem still to like him well enough. In Britain he would probably be resented for his wealth alone, but in Italy it works in his favour.”
Berlusconi is, after all, a guy who once called Rosy Bindi, the middle-aged woman who heads the opposition Democratic party, “increasingly more beautiful than you are intelligent.” Her response was to tell him “I am not one of the women at your disposal,” which prompted an “I’m not at your disposal” campaign in support of her. (Bindi’s rejoinder may have sounded more pithy in the original Italian.) Like that exchange, the insults in the so-called Rubygate scandal are fascinating for their degree of bile, if a little stilted in the translation.
A few days ago, before Berlusconi was indicted for allegedly hiring an underage prostitute, more than 100,000 people, mostly women, came out across the country to protest his dalliances with young women. (Not to mention his penchant for institutionalizing sexism by, among other things, putting skimpily clad showgirls on the networks he owns.) This prompted Berlusconi’s education minister, herself a woman, to label the protestors “the usual snob heroines of the left.” By American standards this is a fairly stunning thing for a high-ranking politician to say. Not to mention a great band name.
Ahmadinejad unveiled his new jet-powered giant dildo bomber one day after Iran began fueling its first nuclear power reactor. The Ambassador of Death has a range of 620 miles and can carry four cruise missiles to “keep the enemy paralyzed in its bases.” Ahmadinejad spoke about his new toy’s dual purpose: “The jet, as well as being an ambassador of death for the enemies of humanity, has a main message of peace and friendship.” How cute!
Depending on the mission, according to the Iranian Defense Ministry, the 13-foot-long, remotely-piloted aircraft can deliver either a pair of 250-pound bombs, a single 450-pound laser-guided bomb, or a quartet of cruise missiles. The UAV travels 560 miles per hour with 620-mile range. It should be noted that past Iranian defense claims have made fish stories seem reliable, and, among other red flags waving today, cruise missile capability would extend the Ambassador of Death’s range well past 620 miles. But taking the specs at face value, here’s how Ahmadinejad’s new saber measures up:
The poster child of UAVs, the 27-foot-long Predator has a cruise speed of 84 mph and a range of 454 miles. Originally developed for reconnaissance by the U.S. Department of Defense in the mid-1990s, Predators were fitted with a pair of Hellfire missiles after an American general remarked, “I can see the tank. Now I’d like to see it blown up.”
When that worked, the Department of Defense commenced development of the Reaper UAV. In operation since 2006, the 36-foot-long Reaper boasts a cruise speed of around 230 mph, a 3,682-mile range, and a relative arsenal including Hellfires, Sidewinder missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs–a potent enough package overall that the Air Force subsequently decided to train more pilots to fly aircraft from ground operations centers than from cockpits.
Two years later, Israel unveiled the Heron UAV, 43 feet long with a wingspan of 85 feet, or about that of a Boeing 737. Its range is 5,000 miles–or deep into Iran and back twice. The Karrar’s stated range would leave it nearly 500 miles shy of Israel. The Heron’s weapons payload, meanwhile, can be 4,000 pounds, or about eight times that of Iran’s new aircraft.
This April brought the introduction a jet-powered version of the Predator, the Avenger, with a top speed of close to 500 mph and, more importantly, a good deal of infrared and radar-proof stealth design–without stealth, the Ambassador of Death may find itself the jet-powered version of a sitting duck.
James Jewell, President of UAV MarketSpace and one of America’s top unmanned aerial systems experts, speculated that Iran’s new offering is “nothing special,” adding of today’s announcement, “I suspect it has an element of hyperbole since it comes so close to the nuclear reactor fueling announcement.”
Jewell also noted several other countries with UAV systems comparable or superior to Iran’s, notably France, Italy, and South Africa (for a fairly extensive international UAV roster, see Wikipedia’s unmanned aerial vehicle page).
The Ambassador of Death, however, has the scariest name.
According to the official word from Tehran, the 13-foot Karrar (’striker”) drone is capable of carrying four cruise missiles. That’s really unlikely. Even smaller-sized cruise missiles, like the Russian Kh-135s, weigh a more than a thousand pounds and are about nine feet long; it’s tough to imagine a relative pipsqueak like the Karrar lugging such a hefty package. [Update: As Pirouz notes in the comments, Iran calls its anti-ship missiles, like the Chinese C-701, “cruise missiles.” Those are compact enough for drone duty.] State television later claimed that the Karrar could carry a pair of 250-pound bombs or a single 500-pounder. That’s more believable (although the single bomb the drone is carrying in the video above looks more like a 250-pound model to me).
Iran has been making its own drones for a while; the U.S. even shot one down over Iraq last year. Since 2004, a small number of those unmanned aerial vehicles have made their way into Hezbollah’s hands. This, however, would be Iran’s first armed robo-plane. In so doing, state television crows, “Iran broke the military advantage of America” — and prepped the country for the looming days of all-robot warfare. That should arrive around 2020, the Iranian Defense Ministry guesstimates.
Tehran’s scientists went “500,000 hours without sleep and eating” while designing the drone, according the state TV report. That figure sounds about as authentic as Iran’s 2007 pronouncement that it had fired off a space-ready missile (which turned out to be nothing more than a modified Scud), or July 2008’s picture of a missile barrage (most of which were Photoshopped dummies).
Some Democrats are upset and advocacy groups are outraged over the raiding of the food-stamp cupboard to fund a state-aid bailout that some call a gift to teachers and government union workers.
House members convened Tuesday and passed the multibillion-dollar bailout bill for cash-strapped states that provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won’t be let go before the new school year begins, keeping more than 160,000 teachers on the job, the Obama administration says.
But the bill also requires that $12 billion be stripped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help fund the new bill, prompting some Democrats to cringe at the notion of cutting back on one necessity to pay for another. The federal assistance program currently helps 41 million Americans.
Arguably one of the most outspoken opponents on the Democratic side is Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has blasted the move as “a bitter pill to swallow” but still voted yes.
“I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act, and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year,” DeLauro said in an e-mail sent to FoxNews.com. “But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid Draconian cuts to essential services for low income families.”
The cynical political reasoning behind this move is the same as that which informs the Democrats’ position on school choice: Union members vote; poor people often don’t (and their children, trapped in terrible schools, can’t).
So much for the Democrats’ carefully cherished self-image as the “party of compassion”; let’s hope Americans don’t forget, when the rubber hit the road, where the Democrats’ first allegiance lay.
And I’d be willing to bet that a lot of those people collecting food stamps would rather simply get a job — that is, if they could, in the Obama economy.
The $26 billion stimulus bill to states — which included a $10 billion gift to the National Education Association and other teacher unions — came with a price: A curtailment in spending on food stamps.
Naturally, many of the robo-Democratic congressmen failed to read the bill as they flew in to D.C. to pass it, collect their sound-bites and fly back to vacation.
The public is reading the bill. It strips $12 billion from food stamps.
Same old rhetoric from Obama–punishing businesses–so it’s all ok. States wouldn’t want to follow New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s lead, would they? If the states could find the cuts, they wouldn’t need to pillage the American taxpayer, and then they wouldn’t need a bailout. California is broke, yet their teachers are the highest paid in the nation. So, private sector greed is bad, but public sector (taxpayer funded–as in, you are taking your neighbor’s hard-earned money) greed is good?
Everyone knows that what the Democrats passed is another bailout–but, while the Democrats help their teacher base and spin that it’s for the children during this election season, another segment of the Democrat base will eventually suffer–the poor and families on food stamps. How will they explain that away? Additionally, the military and other departments and programs will be hit hard as a result of this legislation.
Below is the list of budgetary rescissions compliments of the new “fiscal hawks” in Congress. It’s interesting how Democrats can find budget cuts and have no problem hurting the poor, working families, middle class, defense, and military, when it benefits the teachers and the unions on the US taxpayer’s dime.
If the Democrats are so willing to make these cuts (some permanent), reallocate appropriated funds, and rescind funds from the original stimulus bill of 2009 to meet the pay-go requirement, then why did they use unemployed Americans as political pawns in June when a deficit neutral unemployment bill was introduced and reported here on Big Government? They could have fast-tracked that bill so that millions of unemployed Americans could have continued to receive benefits without a break–all in a bipartisan manner.
We’ve seen it splattered all across the front pages; more spending for jobs, more spending for bailouts, more spending for Unemployment, more spending for Teachers and Unions and special interests. We’ve also seen deficits rise and the National debt reach numbers that don’t fit on WalMart calculators.
And for all that so-called “stimulus” money that promised jobs we still don’t have, homes we still can’t afford, and infrastructure improvements (that would keep America working for a generation) that remain undone, why are we paving roads that cars can’t drive on?? Why do I have to find out about it while skimming state news about National candidates instead of seeing it splattered all across the so-called Media?
The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from “surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities.” Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.
That argument comes despite the President saying that one of the cornerstones of the sweeping new legislation was more transparent financial markets. Indeed, in touting the new law, Obama specifically said it would “increase transparency in financial dealings.”
The SEC cited the new law Tuesday in a FOIA action brought by FOX Business Network. Steven Mintz, founding partner of law firm Mintz & Gold LLC in New York, lamented what he described as “the backroom deal that was cut between Congress and the SEC to keep the SEC’s failures secret. The only losers here are the American public.”
My column today puts the DISCLOSE debacle in the broader context of the Democrats’ reign of darkness. Underscoring the theme of theme of the column: The story from Fox Business on how the “financial reform” bill championed by Obama exempts the SEC from FOIA requests. The transparency farce continues.
Prial reports he hasn’t gotten any response to his request for comment on the matter from the SEC.
The article includes a document link from Scribd with text of the new law, HR 4173, Section 929I, in which it states the SEC Act of 1934 is amended to state the SEC is “not compelled to disclose records or information obtained […] including surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities.”
The lawyer for Fox, Steven Mintz, with Mintz & Gold LLC in New York, says the network plans to challenge the SEC on its interpretation of the law.
Does this mean the SEC has just brazenly stepped outside Freedom of Information Act rules? I’m not sure. I plan to inquire with the SEC on its side of the story and will let you know what, if anything I find.
Note: Fox Business, of course, is a part of News Corp., also the publisher of Barron’s and of this blog.
Correction: As a few readers noted, the wrong section number was listed above for the relevant passage in HR 4173. It is Section 929I, as in Internet, not a numeral “1″ on the end. You can see the passage in the Library of Congress posting of the final version of the bill. My apologies for any confusion caused by the error.
The Dodd-Frank bill had a lot of bad ideas rolled into it, but this may be the worst. As Mintz notes, the next time a Bernie Madoff-type scam occurs, the American public won’t have any idea about it, or about the SEC’s efforts to prevent it. The use of FOIA has uncovered many problems at the SEC, which is undoubtedly why Chris Dodd and Barney Frank wanted the exemption. Among the cases listed by Fox Business as having been boosted by FOIA requests are:
March 2009 – Fox used FOIA to discover that the SEC had investigated Madoff and R. Allen Stanford, but failed to follow through on prosecution in time to save investors.
2009 – Fox again used FOIA to get records showing that the Fed knew AIG execs would get their bonuses under the bailout legislation proposed by Congress.
SEC whistleblower Gary Aguirre forced the SEC to release documents through FOIA requests that showed he was correct in accusing the agency of interfering in an investigation of Pequot Asset Management — and allowed him to get a settlement for wrongful termination.
None of these would have happened without FOIA. Government has only one purpose in issuing FOIA exemptions — opacity. Some functions in government require secrecy, but those should be limited to acute national security operations and other such public-safety tasks (such as raw FBI files, for instance).
Barack Obama and the Democrats don’t want people to see how the SEC does its work, and that should worry everyone who has watched the SEC blow its regulatory responsibilities over the last few years. This is an agency that needs more oversight, not less, especially with its increased power and authority.
Environmentalists, already peeved with the administration’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, are accusing President Obama of breaking his campaign pledge to end the slaughter of whales.
The Obama administration is leading an effort within the International Whaling Commission to lift a 24-year international ban on commercial whaling for Japan, Norway and Iceland, the remaining three countries in the 88-member commission that still hunt whales.
The administration argues that the new deal will save thousands of whales over the next decade by stopping the three countries from illegally exploiting loopholes in the moratorium.
But environmentalists aren’t buying it.
“That moratorium on commercial whaling was the greatest conservation victory of the 20th century. And in 2010 to be waving the white flag or bowing to the stubbornness of the last three countries engaged in the practice is a mind-numbingly dumb idea,” Patrick Ramage, the whaling director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told FoxNews.com.
Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, together with actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, are asking supporters to take action to save whales — again. Nearly a quarter century after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, the threat to whales worldwide has never been greater. Whaling, toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change are all factors in the endangerment of these creatures.
This week, on the eve of the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, the government of Australia took a decisive step to protect whales, filing suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean. The suit seeks an injunction to bar Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary. In 2007, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an election pledge to ban whaling in the sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometer area surrounding the continent of Antarctica, where the IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling.
The lawsuit comes even as the member nations of the IWC are locked in debate over a compromise proposal, to be voted on at Agadir, that would allow the whaling nations to resume commercial whaling with the understanding that they abide by quotas.
Australia’s filing claims that Japan has abused its right to conduct scientific research whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which provides for a scientific exemption. In 2008-09 Japan killed 1,004 whales, including 681 in the Southern Ocean. Since the moratorium came into effect, more than 33,000 whales have been killed under the article.
The lawsuit also asserts that Japan has breached its international obligations under the 1973 Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by hunting whale species listed as endangered, and invokes Article 3 of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, claiming that Japanese whaling is causing harm beyond national jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.
Unfortunately, in the view of nearly the entire American animal protection and environmental community, the United States government has abdicated its leadership role in the defense of whales, encouraging consideration of a compromise proposal and actively politicking for its adoption. The delegation head has even disparaged the Australian initiative in the International Court of Justice.
Since 1986, there’s been a moratorium on commercial whaling that Japan has honored only in the breach. Norway and Iceland don’t honor it at all, while a few aboriginal communities get exemptions. As a consequence, during the past 20 years, the number of whales killed annually has steadily increased; roughly 2,000 were killed last year.
This is a vast improvement over the 80,000 whales killed in 1960, but it’s a very leaky ban. The International Whaling Commission, the 88-nation body that regulates whaling, is now considering a proposal to formally lift the moratorium, in exchange for supposedly tighter limits on newly sanctioned hunting. The idea is that a more realistic regime will save thousands of whales during the next ten years.
But conservationists are rightly galled at a proposal that will again legitimate the killing of nature’s most majestic creatures — as harmless as they are awesome — with no guarantee that the number of whale catches will really go down substantially.
Whaling lost its Melville-esque romance long ago. Once, “iron men in wooden boats” hunted the beasts in something of an even match — otherwise, Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the white whale wouldn’t have been so self-destructive.
The rise of steam engines, explosive harpoons, and then factory ships — capable of killing and processing whales at sea — facilitated the mass slaughter of whales. The creatures had as much a chance against their hunters as bologna does against a grinder. They were killed in a decades-long movable charnel house.
In the first four decades of the 20th century, about 900,000 whales were killed just in the southern hemisphere. Blue whales, the largest animal on earth, had once been too fast for whaling ships. Not in the new age. Since 1920, their population has declined by 96 percent. Many species were hunted to the brink of extinction.
It became clear the carnage didn’t even suit the interests of the hunters, who would soon be bereft of prey. Hunting became restricted, and then, in a great victory for animal conservationists, the IWC ratified the moratorium in 1986.
Why protect whales? They should be preserved as befits anything else that evokes wonder; they are the mammalian equivalent of the Grand Canyon or of the giant redwoods. They are also incredibly long-lived creatures with a sophisticated social structure, closer to chimpanzees than to cattle.
Besides, there’s no reason to kill whales. No one has needed whale oil to light lamps for at least a century, and blubber isn’t a necessary source of nutrition in a modern society. Yet Japan persists. It agitates against the moratorium and organizes international opposition to it at the same time it cynically defies it.
Countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, that oppose whaling are frustrated. The IWC has become a battleground between the two camps, with each side trying to recruit allies from neutral states. Half the body’s 88 members joined in the past decade—helping to make it deadlocked and dysfunctional, unable either to curb whale hunts or to reauthorise them.
There have been physical stand-offs as well as diplomatic ones. In January there was a collision between a Japanese ship and a trimaran from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a green group based in the American state of Washington. The crew (from Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands) had to abandon ship. In February Australia (with quiet sympathy from New Zealand) threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice unless it stopped whaling off Antarctica.
Against this nastiness, a “peace plan” was unveiled on April 22nd, Earth Day, by the IWC’s Chilean chairman, Crishán Maquieira, and his Antiguan deputy, Anthony Liverpool. It reflected months of closed-door talks among a dozen countries. The moratorium would be lifted for a decade, but whalers would agree to a sharp reduction in their catch, stricter enforcement measures and a ban on all cross-border commerce in whale products.
The aim is to buy time in which countries can hammer out a longer-term agreement, while achieving an immediate drop in the number of whales that are killed. Supporters—including Monica Medina, who heads America’s IWC delegation—say the deal seeks to “depoliticise” the whaling that does go on, while laying the ground for a tougher conservation system. The plan will be considered in June at the IWC’s annual meeting in Morocco.
Enter the naysayers
But objections are already coming in. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calls the proposed quota for Antarctic waters unrealistic and unacceptable. Junichi Sato, a Japanese conservationist from Greenpeace who does not share his compatriots’ predilection for whaling, regrets that “the whales are making all the concessions, not the whalers.”
That is not an easy corner to argue in Tokyo. Japan’s fisheries minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, deems the limit “too drastic” and wants it raised. But in principle at least, Japan is ready to make a deal. An official at the Fisheries Agency says that the country is willing to hunt fewer whales provided it can do so without international opprobrium. “We have to lose something in order to get something,” he says. Indeed, it can be argued that the biggest obstacles to a cut in the number of whales slaughtered do not lie with the harpoon-wielders, but rather with their most zealous opponents, for whom the best is the enemy of the good.
Japan’s critics say that by using a loophole in the IWC charter to practise “scientific” whaling, the country is violating the spirit of the document. Japanese officials counter that the 1946 convention never anticipated a moratorium on all commercial whaling. Whale meat is still occasionally served to schoolchildren in Japan as a reminder of their culture, though large-scale whaling only really began after the war, on the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw America’s occupation. The aim was to provide cheap nourishment for a famished nation.
The current proposal would also:
Overturn the global ban on commercial whaling and allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.
Approve the killing of whales for commercial purposes by Japan around Antarctica and in the North Pacific.
Add new rights for Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters.
Allow continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban.
The Obama administration is spearheading a policy that would allow commercial whaling to proceed for 10 years. Commercial whaling has been banned since the 1970s. Before the ban on commercial whaling, close to 40,000 whales were killed annually; since the ban, that number has dropped to fewer than 2,000, and whale populations have begun to recover.
The administration is arguing that if we see whales being slaughtered, we are more likely to support a total moratorium. But that is like saying if we see people killing puppies, fewer people will kill puppies. It’s garbage.
According to a survey by the Nippon Research Center, more than 95 percent of Japanese residents had never eaten whale. But the Japanese government has begun supplying schools with whale meat in an attempt to justify its slaughter. Additionally, Japan has begun bribing land-locked nations in Africa, and poor nations like Nauru and Togo, with aid in exchange for support of position within the IWC.
Whales are intelligent animals. Australia has taken the lead on their protection. For the US to take any other position is abominable.
But can we blame Bush? Yes we can! Or at least, the Brit Independent can:
The deal which may do away with [the ban], which has been on the table for three years, was first thought to be merely a diplomatic compromise to end the perpetual confrontation at IWC meetings between the whaling nations and the anti-whaling countries. But recently it has become clear that it had a different purpose, and was cooked up in the US – by leading figures in the Bush administration, among them being Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who, until his conviction for taking unreported gifts in 2008, was the longest-serving Republican senator in American history.
One of the most powerful figures in US politics, Senator Stevens sought a deal with Japan after the Japanese caused problems for the US by objecting (as a bargaining counter in IWC negotiations) to the whale-hunting quota for Alaskan Inuit peoples, who have a traditional hunt for about 50 bowhead whales.
Senator Stevens is believed to have put pressure on the then-US Whaling Commissioner and IWC chairman, William Hogarth – whose budget, in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, Mr Stevens controlled as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee – to open talks with Japan, which Mr Hogarth duly did at the 2007 IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.
Mr Hogarth’s proposals, which would have allowed the Japanese and others to restart whaling commercially, were eventually thrown out by the IWC. Yet the deal now back on the table is essentially a modified version of his original plan, which is even more favourable to the whaling states.
It is notable that the US, which used to have to negotiate its Inuit bowhead quota every five years, will get a 10-year quota if the new deal goes ahead.
Blaming Bush and the Eskimos – I knew it. But if that is all the payback we get, I am surprised.
And can we find a flip-flip quote from Obama? Yes we can!
As a candidate, President Obama said, “As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (March 16, 2008 – Greenpeace candidate questionnaire)
Yeah, well, that was more than two years ago, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and no one thinks Obama has a little mind.
A U.S.-born cleric who has encouraged Muslims to kill American soldiers called for the killing of U.S. civilians in his first video released by a Yemeni offshoot of al-Qaida, providing the most overt link yet between the radical preacher and the terror group.
Dressed in a white Yemeni robe, turban and with a traditional jambiyah dagger tucked into his waistband, Anwar Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video posted Sunday to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.”
“Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea,” he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians.
Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is believed to be hiding in his parents’ native Yemen, has used his personal website to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.
Jihadist forums, such as this one, announced the AQAP (alQaeda in the Arabic Pennisula) release of Awlaki interview, gave download links and voila it’s on JihadTube. Then on to embedding on websites such as this one.
Same ole kill stuff & praise for those doing the attempted/killing. It’s in Arabic but never fear, someone will translate it soon.(Video with English subtitles)
[…]”Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea,” he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians. Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.”
He added that the Prophet Muhammad also sent forces into battles that claimed civilian lives.[Trying to smooth things over – Mo ordained it so it’s OK…ed]
The video was produced by the media arm of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, though the exact nature of al-Awlaki’s ties with the group and possible direct role in it are unclear. The U.S. says he is an active participant in the group, though members of his tribe have denied that. [It’s called Taqiyya ― Islamic Principle of Lying for the Sake of Allah]
For its part, al-Qaida appears to be trying to make use of his recruiting power by putting him in its videos. Its media arm said Sunday’s video was its first interview with the cleric.
Awlaki’s the guy who preached to 9/11 plotters and inspired Maj. Nidal Hasan. Now he’s rationalizing the murder of civilians. There’s the usual tired canard about the infidels killing Muslims. Come on. Al-Qaeda and its assorted offshoots have killed thousands more Muslim civilians on purpose than the U.S. has ever killed in accidents of war, or through war-crime incidents engineered by the Taliban, etal. Go to Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ll tell you.
The Obama administration has rightly decided to target Awlaki inside Yemen, authorizing military and intelligence officials to kill the cleric if given the opportunity. But the administration should also declassify and release Awlaki’s emails with the Fort Hood Shooter, as well as any other threads of evidence that have been missed. Those bits of intelligence that are still highly sensitive because they deal with current operations can be redacted.
But the American people deserve to see the evidence that their counterterrorism officials have repeatedly failed to understand.
U.S. prosecutors are investigating whether Morgan Stanley misled investors about mortgage-derivatives deals it helped design and sometimes bet against, people familiar with the matter said, in a step that intensifies Washington’s scrutiny of Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis.
Morgan Stanley arranged and marketed to investors pools of bond-related investments called collateralized-debt obligations, or CDOs, and its trading desk at times placed bets that their value would fall, traders said. Investigators are examining, among other things, whether Morgan Stanley made proper representations about its roles.
Among the deals that have been scrutinized are two named after U.S. Presidents James Buchanan and Andrew Jackson, a person familiar with the matter said. Morgan Stanley helped design the deals and bet against them but didn’t market them to clients. Traders called them the “Dead Presidents” deals.
The probe is at a preliminary stage. Bringing criminal cases involving complex Wall Street deals is a huge challenge for prosecutors. The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a firm or its employees knowingly misled investors, a high bar. The government launches many criminal investigations that end without any charges being filed.
Banks also set up ever more complex deals that favored those betting against C.D.O.’s. Morgan Stanley established a series of C.D.O.’s named after United States presidents (Buchanan and Jackson) with an unusual feature: short-sellers could lock in very cheap bets against mortgages, even beyond the life of the mortgage bonds. It was akin to allowing someone paying a low insurance premium for coverage on one automobile to pay the same on another one even if premiums over all had increased because of high accident rates.
I’d love to know more about this feature. I’m not looking for a quick one-sentence summary which can be dropped into a newspaper article, but a detailed explanation of exactly what it was and how it worked. Does anybody have offering documents from Citi or UBS for these deals which might include such a thing?
I think this shows the limitations of print-based journalism, and the long way we have yet to go before newspapers fully embrace the web. Both the WSJ and the NYT give the impression that they have seen and understood the structures in question, and that they’re simply summarizing them in order to make their stories easier to read for a broad audience. That’s fine — but once you’ve done that, do please give the full details online to finance geeks who want to understand the deals on a finer-grained level.
There were lots of synthetic CDOs structured and sold at the end of the subprime boom, but the ones being singled out by regulators and prosecutors seem to be the unusual ones — first the Goldman deal which was created at the behest of John Paulson, and now the Morgan Stanley deal with this mysterious embedded structure. It would be a great service if the news media, rather than just trying to report the news, also published primary documents and full details of what they’re writing about, so the rest of us can come to our own conclusions.
To give an idea how difficult it is to investigate bad practices in the CDO market, we had been told about the dead President deals (and a similar program by Citigroup) but were not able to find the offering documents through our normal research avenues. It is likely going to take continued investigation by prosecutors and lawsuits from private parties to unearth a good bit of what happened in this market.
Update 1:00 AM: From one of our CDO sources via an old e-mail:
And if anyone wants to do the digging, MS and C had their own mini-ABACUS programs as well. The MS deals were all named after US presidents and the C deals were all named “Franklin” I believe.
Another source just wrote us:
I did see a couple of deals with the long short feature described in the articles. Of course, these were marketed as a way for investors to get the benefit of a more bearish bet on the housing market.
The theory was that the CDO manager would use CDS to go short some portion of the MBS market as a hedge on the bullish bet. Usually the short bucket was limited to about 10% of the deal. This is consistent with the way senior bonds were marketed to investors (and insurers) in 2007 – by taking the top class, the investors were supposed to be making a conservative investment, remote from any mortgage credit risk, as opposed to investing at a more risk sensitive BBB level.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if this feature was put in so the equity could get a further leveraged short bet while the senior investors ended up with the long side.
It was not uncommon for prop desks to hire a different investment bank to be the lead on their deals. I came across that a couple of times with Morgan Stanley, in fact. It was pretty confusing, since the people at Morgan who were supposedly on the prop desk were the same people who you’d talk to on deals where they were acting as the lead banker for a deal. Even though they hired a third party lead bank for their prop deals, the individuals at the prop desk would still act like they were the bankers on the deals.
Finally, I am pretty confident that there is a direct connection between the mortgage deals that Morgan Stanley was trying to originate and sell and the bonds that went into these CDOs. The opportunity for manipulating the pricing on the mortgage deals would have been significant. By manipulating the price of the sub bonds on the mortgage deals, they could have influenced the pricing on the senior bonds of the mortgage deals that were going to real cash investors – especially the GSEs.
In this scenario, the investment bank brings a mortgage deal with loans they bought or originated. Their own CDO buys the sub bonds at artificially low prices. They place the sub bonds of the CDO into another CDO for which the investment bank is the warehouse provider, so they set the price on the CDO sub bonds at an artificially low level. The super senior of the CDO goes off to a bond insurer, and so the price is never disclosed or really tested in the market either.
In such an opaque market, there is a lot of bad stuff that could have gone on.
He also reminded me that another member our team, Andrew Dittmer, had found a Gretchen Morgenson mention of the Morgan Stanley transactions in her December 24 article, but like the Wall Street Journal story, lacking specific deal names and amounts:
Morgan Stanley established a series of C.D.O.’s named after United States presidents (Buchanan and Jackson) with an unusual feature: short-sellers could lock in very cheap bets against mortgages, even beyond the life of the mortgage bonds. It was akin to allowing someone paying a low insurance premium for coverage on one automobile to pay the same on another one even if premiums over all had increased because of high accident rates.
Given that the Wall Street Journal story indicated that Morgan Stanley received a subpoena about these transactions in December 2009, one has to wonder whether Morgenson was a recipient of a leak from a Department of Justice or SEC contact, and whether those parties might have been using the media to influence the decision-making within their own agency, as in to increase the public profile of these deals to create more support for going ahead.
As of today, neither Citi, Deutsche Bank nor Morgan Stanley have received so-called Wells Notices issued to either firm. A Wells Notice indicates that the commission’s enforcement staff is recommending to the full commission that the firms should be charged with civil securities fraud.
That said, people with knowledge of the matter say the probes are ongoing.
The SEC’s increased interest would also signal that the Justice Department’s probe of the sale of CDOs is actually wider than the two firms in the news as preliminary targets of federal prosecutors, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The SEC regularly refers to the Justice Department cases which it considers significant.
The wider interest by the government increases the chances that Wall Street and federal officials may ultimately reach a “global settlement” with the securities industry as it finds a pattern of allegedly improper conduct in the sale of these so-called structured products. In such a settlement, each firm will pay a fine based on the level of alleged misconduct.
The SEC declined to comment on possible investigations into Morgan Stanley, Citi and Deutsche Bank. The banks also declined to comment.
The last high-profile global settlement was crafted by former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the SEC over Wall Street’s use of fraudulent stock research to entice small investors into buying Internet stocks, many of which went bust or declined significantly in value during the 2000-2001 collapse of the technology market.
In addition to all the big firms settling the matter with the SEC and Spitzer, two prominent stock analysts, Henry Blodget, formerly of Merrill Lynch, and Jack Grubman, formerly of Citigroup, were also charged and banned from the securities industry. Sources say Grubman is a telecommunications industry consultant, while Blodget has re-emerged as a journalist.
Shares of Morgan Stanley (MS) are off $1.36, or 5%, at $27.02 following the front page story in The Wall Street Journal by Amir Efrati, Susan Pulliam, Serena Ng, and Aaron Lucchetti that the firm is being investigated by federal prosecutors regarding its mortgage-backed derivatives contracts, citing anonymous sources.
Morgan Stanley says that it didn’t misrepresent its position in the collateralized debt obligations, known as the “dead presidents,” even though it bet against some of them, according to the authors.
In an online update of the story, MS CEO James Gorman at a press conference in Tokyo stated tjat the firm has not been contacted by the justice department and has no knowledge of an investigation, the authors write.
The investment bank’s stock sank early Wednesday on reports that it was facing a probe of its dealings in subprime-related debt. The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Goldman Sachs (GS) last month over its handling of a similar deal, known as a collateralized debt obligation, and investors have since been on the lookout for the next bank to face a federal investigation of bubble-era shenanigans.
The thought that Morgan Stanley (MS) might be the next to face the music seemed likely, given a jump this morning in the cost of insuring against a default on the firm’s debt. The annual price of buying protection on Morgan bonds rose 8% in morning trading to $206,000 per $10 million of five-year debt, according to CMA.
But the firm’s assertion that it hasn’t been contacted by the Justice Department seems to have won the day. By the end of the day, Morgan Stanley shares were down just 2% and its credit default swap spreads were actually a bit narrower than they were at the end of the day Tuesday, indicating that there is less of a perceived risk for Chairman John Mack (right) and company.
With the stock trading near book value and everyone expecting additional scrutiny of questionable trades, it will take more than a mere report of a probe to move the needle. “We think downside potential is relatively limited from current levels,” Citi analyst Keith Horowitz wrote Wednesday morning. He rates Morgan Stanley hold.
That makes sense, for the moment. But given the backlash against the banks and the extent of bubble-era envelope-pushing on Wall Street, “hold onto your seats” might be the more apt rating for the big banks.
A crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks was discovered in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on Sunday the authorities were still seeking a suspect and motive.
“We are very lucky,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a 2:15 a.m. press conference. “We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.”
A large swath of Midtown — from 43rd Street to 48th Street, and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues — was closed for much of the evening after the Pathfinder was discovered just off Broadway on 45th Street. Several theaters and stores, as well as the South Tower of the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated.
Mr. Bloomberg was joined by Gov. David A. Paterson, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and other officials at the early morning press conference to give a chronology of the vehicle’s discovery, its disarming, and the investigation that has been launched. The mayor and police commissioner had returned early from the annual White House correspondents’ dinner in Washington.
At 6:28 p.m., Mr. Kelly said, a video surveillance camera recorded what was believed to be the dark green Nissan S.U.V. driving west on 45th Street.
Moments later, a T-shirt vendor on the sidewalk saw smoke coming out of vents near the back seat of the S.U.V., which was now parked awkwardly at the curb with its engine running and its hazard lights on. The vendor called to a mounted police officer, the mayor said, who smelled gunpowder when he approached the S.U.V. and called for assistance. The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s.
According to officials, around 6:30 p.m. (ET), a dark green Pathfinder parked awkwardly at a curb. A T-shirt vendor noticed smoke coming from the truck — which had its hazard lights on and its engine still running — and alerted a mounted police officer. The officer approached the vehicle, smelled gunpowder, called for backup, and the police began evacuating Times Square.
The Nissan’s windows were broken by a robot, which also removed explosives. Inside, officials found three propane tanks, consumer-grade fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components. The mayor described the device as “amateurish.”
Paul Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesman, added that the bomb apparently “malfunctioned.”
Specific details about the device are, not surprisingly, still coming together, but a former supervisor for the NYPD bomb squad said that had the device functioned as intended, “it would be more of an incendiary event” than an explosion.
At this point, there is no information about possible suspects or motives, and the effort to collect video surveillance was still underway.
President Obama, of course, was briefed on developments last night, and told NYC officials that the administration was prepared to help in the investigation.
Buildings in the vicinity were quickly evacuated, which tells you how seriously they were taking this and how much explosive power they feared the bomb might have. Said Bloomberg, putting it mildly, “We are very lucky.” As for possible culprits, trying to set off a bomb with fireworks doesn’t sound like the work of master jihadis, but then the 2007 London plot was a jihad operation too and that didn’t come off either. The basic ingredients in both plots are the same — propane and gasoline, a.k.a. a fuel-air device. Read this Time magazine piece from five years ago about Al Qaeda capo Dhiren Barot’s “Gas Limo Plot,” which involved packing limousines with tanks of compressed gas, driving them into underground garages, and detonating them to create a fuel-air concussion that would bring down the building. As I understand it, an enclosed place is ideal for maximum damage from a bomb like that, but obviously not essential. In fact, the cars found in the London plot three years ago were discovered parked on the street, just like the one found last night.
Police are reviewing security videotapes. However, the SUV’s windows were tinted, which could make it hard to see anyone inside on the tapes. On “Meet the Press” this morning, Janet Napolitano said fingerprints and other forensic evidence were recovered.
Apparently stolen, the SUV had Connecticut license plates from another car, a Ford F-150. Police interviewed the owner of that car but said he was not a suspect; they’re investigating the junkyard where the Ford was left.
Broadway shows were canceled or delayed. The area between West 43rd to 47th Streets along Broadway and Seventh Avenue was blocked with metal railings last night, and parts of West 48th Street were also closed. Times Square is now reopen.
Everyone agrees the NYPD did a fantastic job.
At least one tourist managed to make light of the situation: “It’s a whole different kind of show,” Tay Heniser of Seattle told the Times, adding, “It’s almost the equivalent of a $150 show.”
The dark green Nissan Pathfinder with tinted windows was parked near the junction of 45th Street and Broadway.
The location is also adjacent to the Viacom building, fuelling speculation that it might be linked to the company’s controversial South Park cartoon which recently depicted Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.