Tag Archives: Frank James

The Pepto And The Dry Run

Richard Esposito, Christine Brouwer and Brian Ross at ABC News:

Two men taken off a Chicago-to-Amsterdam United Airlines flight in the Netherlands have been charged by Dutch police with “preparation of a terrorist attack,” U.S. law enforcement officials tell ABC News.

U.S. officials said the two appeared to be travelling with what were termed “mock bombs” in their luggage. “This was almost certainly a dry run, a test,” said one senior law enforcement official.

A spokesman for the Dutch public prosecutor, Ernst Koelman, confirmed the two men were arrested this morning and said “the investigation is ongoing.” He said the arrests were made “at the request of American authorities.”

Frank James at NPR:

NPR’s Carrie Johnson has a bit more information from law enforcement officials on the detention of the two men in Amsterdam from a United Airlines flight from Chicago:

“One of the men is from Yemen. Another man who joined him lives in the Detroit area.

Officials say the Yemeni man taped cell phones, watches and other items together in his suitcase. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he had a dangerous intent.

Under Dutch law, the men can be detained while the investigation continues.

She also passes along the following statement from U.S. law enforcement:

“Suspicious items were located in checked luggage associated with two passengers on United Flight 908 from Chicago O’Hare to Amsterdam last night. The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items.  This matter continues to be under investigation.”

The Jawa Report:

The test involved traveling separately to Chicago’s O’Hare airport with a fake bomb or two in a suitcase (not to mention a box cutter and three large knives). The suitcase was then checked onto a flight to Dulles, with connecting flights to Dubai, and finally Yemen. The two suspects having met up at O’Hare, boarded a flight to Amsterdam instead. The luggage with the fake bombs was recovered at Dulles when it was realized that the suspect who checked it had not actually boarded the flight from Chicago to Dulles. The Chicago to Amsterdam flight being rather long, there was at least time to notify the Dutch who were happy to arrest the men upon landing. I assume the fly team has already been dispatched to Schiphol to collect these gentlemen and return them to the USA. The fake bombs were first discovered at the airport in Birmingham, where al-Soofi boarded his flight to O’Hare. He was allowed to proceed, suggesting either incompetence or brilliance on the part of federal officials – I’m not sure which. In addition to the objects in his luggage he was carrying $7,000 in cash and arrived at the airport wearing bulky clothing out of season…

John Schulenburg at Gateway Pundit:

What’s shocking about this is that before he even got to Chicago he was stopped in Alabama for “further screening” because of “bulky clothing” and then upon further investigation of his checked baggage, they found all sorts of shady things including 7 grand in cash,  a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, three cell phones taped together, several watches taped together, a box cutter and three large knives.

Daniel Foster at The Corner

Weasel Zippers

Allah Pundit:

When they saw the cell phone taped to the Pepto Bismol bottle, did they … run a test to make sure it was Pepto in there or did they just wave it through? And if they were so concerned about the contents that him checking his luggage on one flight and boarding another in Chicago triggered a panic response, why on earth did they let him fly with that bag at all? It’s not like a jihadi would refuse to remotely detonate a suitcase in the cargo hold just because he’s aboard the same plane.

Basically, it sounds like this guy wanted to see just how many red flags he could send up and still be allowed to board an intercontinental flight. Answer: Quite a few, as it turns out. Which was also true of Flight 253, of course, another attempted terror attack that involved a bomber trained in … Yemen, the new number-one hot spot of international terrorism. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Justin Elliott at Salon

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Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security

Gates Breaks Out The Scissors

Frank James at NPR:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made reducing and redirecting the Pentagon’s huge budget a priority.

On Monday, he pushed forward his initiative on that front. Included among the ideas he laid out is a recommendation to eliminate one of the military’s nine commands, the Joint Forces Command which is called Jiffycom by some. That command employs employs about 5,000 people, both uniformed military and private sector.

As NPR’s Tom Bowman reported for the network’s radio newscast.

TOM: What Gates wants to cut is called the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., that employs 3,000 private contractors.

The command was created a decade ago to get the military services to work more closely together, but Gates says that’s now largely been achieved.

Gates also wants to reduce the Pentagon’s dependency on those outside contractors.

GATES: To accelerate this process and achieve additional savings, I have directed that we  reduce funding for service supported contractors by 10 percent per year for each of the next three years.

Gates told reporters that 200 Pentagon contractors work full-time just writing reports ordered by Congress.

Any money saved in these cutbacks, says Gates, will be used to help modernize the military.

The American Forces Press Service has a fairly comprehensive report on the briefing Gates gave reporters Monday. It contained this background on why the cuts are needed:

Money saved with these efficiencies will go back into funding needed military capabilities. “To be clear, the task before us is not to reduce the department’s top-line budget,” Gates said. “Rather, it is to significantly reduce its excess overhead costs and apply the savings to force structure and modernization.”

President Barack Obama has programmed in real growth of between 1 and 2 percent into future years’ defense budgets, but that is not enough to maintain today’s warfighting capabilities and modernize, which requires roughly 2 to 3 percent real growth. The savings in overhead are crucial to making up that difference, Gates said.

Gates continues to target political sacred cows for extinction, both weapons programs and bases that are so spread out across the county as to impact many congressional districts. He realizes he doesn’t have the political wind at his back on this one, just the opposite.

Sandra Erwin at National Defense Magazine:

Winners: Troops in uniform, ship programs, weapons systems that are needed to fight current and future wars.
Losers: Bloated defense and intelligence agencies, redundant bureaucracies, four-star generals and admirals guilty of “brass creep,” report writers, white-collar contractors.

That pretty much sums up the casualty report from the efficiency-campaign bombshells dropped today by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He is looking for $100 billion in savings from cuts in overhead costs over the next five years.

The Pentagon needs the savings to “sustain a military at war and prepare for future threats,” Gates said. There are no plans yet to cut the defense budget top line, but these measures are necessary for the Defense Department to preserve its current force structure and fund modernization programs within the flat budgets projected for the foreseeable future, he said.

“I concluded that our headquarters and support bureaucracies — military and civilian alike — have swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions, grown over reliant on contractors, and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost,” Gates said at a news conference. His office alone has added 1,000 employees during the past decade, with little evidence that the expansion has added any real value, Gates said.

The bureaucratic ballooning and the excessive hiring of white-collar contractors must end, said Gates.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

In Washington, you know a decision is controversial when the pushback comes before the announcement. Such is the case with Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘s Monday bombshell that he wants to close Joint Forces Command.

The AP broke the news this morning that Gates would announce at a press conference his idea to shutter JFCOM’s gigantic base in southern Virginia as part of his drive to cut $100 billion from the Pentagon budget. He also announced a 10 percent cutback in the Defense Department’s use of contractors each year for the next three years and pledged to cut the size of his own staff and that of the larger Pentagon bureaucracy.

Today, Gates also directed the elimination of DOD’s Business Transformation Agency and the office of the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration (NII). He said the moves were part of his two-year effort to reform the Defense Department and pledged more announcements in the coming months.

“The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint,” Gates said. “This agenda is not about butting the department’s budget. It’s about reforming and reshaping priorities to ensure that in tough budgetary and economic times, we can focus defense resources where they belong.”

But even before Gates spoke, a team of Virginia lawmakers sent out an advisory that they will hold “an urgent press conference” on the announcement Monday at 4 p.m. at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, near where the base is located. Reps. Glenn Nye, J. Randy Forces, Bobby Scott, and Rob Wittman were all scheduled to speak.

“The proposal by the Defense Department to close JFCOM is short-sighted and without merit,” Nye said following Gates’s announcement. “I appreciate the department’s attempt to rein in spending, but I have yet to see any substantive analysis to support the assertion that closing JFCOM will yield large savings.”

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner released a statement Monday protesting the announcement before it was made.

“I can see no rational basis for dismantling JFCOM since its sole mission is to look for efficiencies and greater cost-savings by forcing more cooperation among sometimes competing military services,” Warner said. “In the business world, you sometimes have to spend money in order to save money.”

Gates said he would work with JFCOM employees to ease their transition as the base closes and speculated that Virginia could benefit if the savings are reinvested in other local military efforts, such as shipbuilding.

Rachel Slajda at Talking Points Memo

Karaka Pend at Spencer Ackerman’s place:

I have to say, I admire Gates for taking the hardline on this budget, whether it’s pulling back on Navy war machines or getting the President to back a veto on an extra jet engine. Today’s announcement shows he’s serious about backing off the hose of spending attributed to the Department of Defense, an act that is doubly hard as we’re finishing up one conflict and continuing on with another. Besides which, the first place you’d look at to offset the deficit would be the defense budget, and this is the administration taking a proactive stance towards that budget.

Still, this will make some people pretty unhappy. JFCOM is tasked with co-ordinating the various branches of the military in training, future mission development, and organizational structure, and while those roles can be folded into other entities, it will take some time to transition. Furthermore, reducing contractor support by 10% annually for the next four years is no small potato either. But if anyone can push this through, it’s Gates.

Lewis MD at Spencer Ackerman’s place:

Defense and security take up approximately a fifth of the federal budget. Twenty cents out of every dollar that you send to the government goes towards that slice of the pie. The nominal cost is somewhere north of $700bn per year. With the large budget deficits in our future, defense deserves a large amount of scrutiny.

Gates and the White House seem to realize this. Congress, however, doesn’t seem to share the appetite for budget cuts. This has led to some fierce battles over specific programs. The problem is that there are defense industries in every state and congressional district in the country. No congressman wants to give up the jobs that come with, for example, a second engine for the F-35, even if the Pentagon doesn’t even want it.

Congress will likely fight these budget cuts tooth-and-nail, but if we’re going to get deficits under control, the DoD can NOT be exempted from the pain. Off the top of my head, other programs that probably should fear the budget axe include the Marines’ V-22 Osprey and F-35B (with STOVL capability), the navy in general, and contractors.

Paul Krugman’s column today focused on the pain being felt in communities as essential services are cut back. His column talked mostly about the tax cuts that are set to expire this year. But don’t we need more and better teachers more than a special version of the F-35 that the Marine Corps admits it doesn’t really need? Wouldn’t we rather invest in our crumbling infrastructure than build another aircraft carrier when we already have an order of magnitude more carrier battle groups than any other nation? We spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. We can still have a conventional military that dwarfs any other nation, while making tough choices to weed out bad or only marginally useful programs. Our communities could really use the money.

John Guardiano at FrumForum:

I honestly don’t know whether the Pentagon’s decision yesterday to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is wise or ill-advised. That’s a programmatic and bureaucratic decision that, candidly, I lack the expertise right now to make.

But what I do know is this: In the absence of budgetary pressure from the White House, the Pentagon most likely would not be seeking now to close down JFCOM while reducing its spending by some $100 billion over the next five years.

I also know that since Obama was elected president, the only government agency asked to make significant budget cuts has been the Department of Defense; and this is wrong. It is wrong because it is unfair, unreasonable and dangerous.

It is unfair because the U.S. military is really the only governmental entity that is being forced to scale back. Domestic social-welfare spending, by contrast, has skyrocketed. Yet where’s the hue and cry? It doesn’t exist.

But you can be sure that if it were the Department of Education or the Environmental Protection Agency that were being forced to make cuts, the bureaucracies there would be vociferously protesting — and ditto their allied outside liberal lobby groups.

The U.S. military, of course, can’t protest and it doesn’t protest. This because of the principle of civilian control of the military. Military officials instead simply salute and say, “Yes, Sir.”

Meanwhile, the defense contractors and parochial elected officials make ill-conceived and unpersuasive appeals based on “jobs” and pork-barrel spending.

I say ill-conceived because defense spending should be explained and justified as a matter of military necessity, not as a “jobs program” for congressional constituents. And I say unpersuasive because everyone knows that these pork-barrel spending appeals are politically self-serving and economically dubious.

To be sure, there is an economic case to be made for defense spending. I’ve made that case myself here at FrumForum, and it is this: Just as defense spending helped to lift America out of a prolonged depression in the 1930s, so too, can defense spending help to lift America out of its current economic malaise.

But defense spending can be economically beneficial only if it plays to the central strength of America’s economy in the 21st Century. And that strength involves our ability to harness computer processing power and other information technologies to create new and unprecedented opportunities for individuals, even individual soldiers.

The politicians, however, don’t get this. Their defense spending schemes aren’t aimed at creating new 21st Century economic opportunities. They’re aimed instead at preserving old and ossified 20th Century “jobs programs.” Their efforts aren’t part and parcel of any overarching national defense strategy; they’re the economically wasteful byproduct of domestic political indulgence. And that is why they ultimately fail, both politically and economically.

In any case, it is extremely unfair to force the Department of Defense alone to bear the burden of Washington’s phony newfound fiscal rectitude.

Fred Kaplan at Slate:

Gates is canny to play off one set of interests against another (drop the Joint Forces Command, pick up another ship; give up a dozen generals, win a few more of those armored vehicles you’ve been eyeing). Maybe it will work. But by notching up his victories in this manner, he forgoes a path that would have yielded much greater savings.

The big money and the real savings lie precisely in the “force structure” and “force modernization” that Gates is aiming—and genuinely wants—to protect. In the question-and-answer period, he said that about half of the weapons-procurement budget goes for modernization—that is, for building new weapons, most of which have little or nothing to do with the wars we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the current budget ($549 billion, not counting the costs of our two wars) contains $137.5 billion for procurement, that amounts to roughly $70 billion.

Gates wants the Pentagon and the military branches to conduct a “clean-sheet review” and to “start setting priorities, making real tradeoffs, and separating appetites from real requirements” when it comes to things like contractors, headquarters, overhead, and so forth. And that’s all to the good. But he’s not launching any similar campaign when it comes to deployments and weapons systems. (In fairness, last year, he did cut about 20 weapons programs, including the F-22—more than any defense secretary in 40 years. But budget officials estimate that the bag of goodies is still bursting way beyond our ability to pay for them.)

The steps Gates took today have far-reaching implications; I don’t mean to minimize them. But there are other issues and questions that tap more deeply into the foundations of what he himself calls our “cumbersome and top-heavy” military, which has “grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost.”

For instance: How many submarines and aircraft carriers does the Navy really need? And do all those carriers need the same number of aircraft and escort ships? How many fighter planes does the Air Force really need? How many brigades does the Army really need?

Gates’ new reforms are based on two premises: First, that the nation can’t afford unceasing growth in the defense budget; second, that the nation can afford moderate growth in the defense budget, as long as the Pentagon shows good faith by slashing what any objective observer would label “waste.”

The first premise is unassailable, the second probably too optimistic. The fact is, we can’t afford growth in the defense budget, period. To get the cuts he’s after, Gates—as a matter of political realism—has to leave the rest of the budget alone. But at some point, some secretary of defense is going to have to open it all up to scrutiny.

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Filed under Economics, Military Issues

Uh… They’re Number One?

Frank James at NPR:

The U.S. is no longer the single largest consumer of the world’s energy resources. That distinction now goes to China, according to the International Energy Agency.

The IEA says that according to an analysis of its data for 2009, China, with a population of 1.33 billion compared with the U.S.’s 310.2 million, has outstripped the U.S.

It’s been known for some day that this day would come. But it happened faster than was forecast because China was hurt less by the global recession than the U.S.

Nicholas Deleon at Crunch Gear:

The actual numbers are pretty impressive, particularly when you consider that a mere 10 years ago China was quite a bit behind the U.S.

China consumed some 2,252 millions tons of the oil equivalent of sources such as coal, nuclear power, natural gas, and hydropower. The U.S. consumed 4 percent less. These are numbers from last year, by the way.

But that’s where energy efficiency comes into play. Since the year 2000, the U.S. has increased its energy efficiency by about 2.5 percent annually. China? 1.8 percent. So not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Does this really mean anything to you? Eh, maybe. Certainly it’ll have implications for the world at large though. Now that China is the biggest consumer of energy, it alone is in the position to tell energy providers, “Look, we’re willing to pay X for Y units of energy.” If China’s X is bigger than the U.S.’s X, then we may be looking at a situation where energy prices will go up simply because “someone else” is willing to pay more.

Which could mean that all the factories that produce all the lovely electronic gizmos we talk about day in, day out, could see their costs of doing business go up. And who would make up the difference? Yes, you!

Then again, it could have the very opposite effect, and end up lowering prices.

Mark Wilson at Gizmodo:

A different metric? Three years ago, China was the world’s biggest exporter of coal. Now it’s the leading importer. And last year, for the first time ever, Saudi Arabia sold more oil to China than the US.

Given that China’s consumption will give them more negotiation power in the world’s power market, it may be a good time to buck our trend of a mere 2.5% energy efficiency increase per year.

Frank Holmes at Wall Street Pit:

While most, if not all, had predicted China would become the world’s largest energy user, many didn’t think it was going to happen for another five years. China’s rise to the top can largely be attributed to a decline in energy usage in the U.S. China’s 2009 energy usage was below that of the U.S. from 2004-2008, before the financial crisis.

In fact, just ten years ago China’s energy consumption was less than half that of the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. remains the biggest energy consumer on a per capita basis, the IEA economist said, consuming three times more per citizen than China. The U.S. also consumes more than twice the amount of oil that China does in a day.

But like most things with China, that statistic won’t last long. The IEA reported in last year’s World Energy Outlook that China and India will represent more than half of all incremental demand increases by 2030.

Well aware of the global politics of energy, the Chinese government was quick to dismiss the story as an overestimation by the IEA. Probably not the last time we’ll see modesty from Beijing as the country continues to put “world’s largest” in front of more and more resources.

Paul Denlinger at Forbes:

This is why the Chinese government has chosen to invest in developing new green energy technology.

The country is very fortunate in that most of the discovered deposits of rare earths used in the development of new technologies are found in China. While these deposits are very valuable, up until recently, the industry has not been regulated much by the Chinese central government. But now that Beijing is aware of their importance and value, it has come under much closer scrutiny. For one, Beijing wants to consolidate the industry and lower energy waste and environmental damage. (Ironically, the rare earth mining business is one of the most energy-wasteful and highly polluting industries around. Think Chinese coal mining with acid.)

At the same time, Beijing wants to cut back rare earth exports to the rest of the world, instead encouraging domestic production into wind and solar products for export around the world. With patents on the new technology used in manufacturing, China would control the intellectual property and licensing on the products that would be used all over the world. If Beijing is able to do this, it would control the next generation of energy products used by the world for the next century.

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Filed under China, Energy

The Punch Seen Round The Internets

Max Read at Gawker:

If you’re a police officer, how do you handle an angry confrontation with a 17-year-old girl who you’ve stopped for jaywalking? One thing you maybe shouldn’t do is punch her in the head. Which is what one Seattle cop did.

On Monday, a police officer patrolling south Seattle caught a group of young women committing the serious offense of jaywalking. He asked them over to his patrol car, at which point they became “verbally antagonistic.” One girl tried to walk away, and the officer grabbed her to escort her back to his patrol car; the other girl then attempted to separate the office and the girl. So the officer punched her.

Sounds like a totally normal, everyday interaction with the police, right?

Radley Balko:

Both women are overreacting here. Obviously the cop is as well. Make up your own mind about whether the punch was warranted. I think you could make a case that by the time the punch was thrown, the cop justifiably felt he was losing control of the situation. (And hey, at least he didn’t use his Taser.) Seems to me that the mistake came earlier: This started as a jaywalking citation. Was it it really so important that the woman get a jaywalking fine that she needed to be chased down and thrown against the patrol car? Even if she was trying to avoid the fine, seems like at some point you realize what’s at stake here (a single incident of someone undermining your authority to get away with a petty crime), and just let it go.

Weasel Zippers:

Female teenager assaults police officer in the line of duty

Pays with her face.

Chick had it coming.

More here.

UPDATE: Thanks to JCM for this link to an uncut version of the vid.

Frank James at NPR:

Because the young woman who pushed the officer is African-American and the officer white, the case has taken on the obligatory racial element, with some blacks saying race was an issue.

Who knows? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. It could have just as easily been racial on her part as his.

What’s certain, however, is that it’s almost invariably a bad idea to lay one’s hands on a police officer. Nothing good can come from that.

Better to say, politely, “Yes, officer, you’re right. I was jaywalking. I’ll never, ever do it again.”

Yes, that’s called fibbing. But most reasonable people would probably agree that a small lie is better than having a police officer hit you with a hard right and then arrest you.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has plenty of details on the incident and the aftermath.

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

The problems here for Seattle’s police (no matter what emerges in the police’s investigations findings) are twofold.

One is that there have already been two major controversies in Seattle involving police and videos recently. One is over another incident involving police and a video — specifically a video that showed a 15-year-old African American girl being roughed up in a cell in November by a policeman who later pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault in March. The other, which broke last month, involved an April incident when a video showed a Seattle Police officer kicking a Latino man and vowing to beat “the Mexican piss” out of him. Both sparked lots of news stories online and You Tube videos.

Meanwhile, the latest in this case is that the Seattle Police now seem to be inching away from the initial suggestion put out in news reports that the force was justified:

Confronted by another incident caught on videotape, Seattle police have ordered a sweeping review into a jaywalking stop in which an officer punched a 17-year-old girl in the face after she shoved him.

Interim Police Chief John Diaz ordered the review of the department’s training procedures after a videotape of the incident was repeatedly broadcast on Seattle television stations and media websites.

On the video, Officer Ian P. Walsh is seen punching the girl in the face after she tries to intervene in the arrest of a 19-year-old friend near Franklin High School on Monday afternoon. Police arrested the girl, Angel L. Rosenthal, and her friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias, both of whom have criminal records.

The department’s response to the incident in Rainier Valley came as Mayor Mike McGinn is nearing a decision on a new permanent chief: either Diaz or East Palo Alto, Calif., Police Chief Ron Davis.

It also comes as the department is conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of two other officers who were caught on videotape April 17 kicking a prone Latino man, with one using ethnically inflammatory language.

Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz, speaking at a hastily called news conference Tuesday morning, expressed concerns about Walsh’s conduct, saying the department was “withholding judgment” pending a separate internal investigation into the officer’s action by the department’s civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability.

His comments represented a stark reversal of the department’s preliminary statement Monday night, when a spokesman said Walsh had acted appropriately.

As we’ve increasingly seen in the political world, it’s now a reality that if there is a cellphone, videos capturing bad behavior or language will be out there for all to see — online within minutes, viewed by potentially millions and in many cases viewed unedited so viewers can make up their own minds on what they see.

For differing reasons people will see it differently. In the case of the Seattle police, the cumulative imagery of three controversies involving force will not help its image or attitudes towards it in parts of the city.

The other problem is the issue of how a video that at first glance seems clear in its meaning can actually seem clear in its meaning in two or three ways, depending on who is viewing it and what beliefs, perceptions, experiences and preferences or biases they bring to the table before they view it. This is being seen now in political videos that become controversial and in other videos. Perhaps the most famous instance is  the 1991 Rodney King case.

UPDATE: E.D. Kain at The League here, here and here

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Filed under Crime

And Nobody Mentions The Lead Paint

Frank James at NPR:

There’s been a much-observed tendency to link periods of rising economic distress with increasing crime rates.

But we may have to rethink that, given the pattern in the national data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2009, for the third straight year and during the Great Recession, crime rates fell.

The FBI reports that its preliminary numbers indicate the national violent crime rate fell 5.5. percent. Meanwhile, the property crime rate fell by 4.9 percent. You would think the lack of jobs would mean more burglaries or strong-arm robberies as some people turned to crime to get money. But that just hasn’t been the case.

Mark Kleiman:

Good news: crime is down again, by a substantial amount (7.5% for homicide). Aside from a blip up in 2006, the decline has now been going on for a decade and a half, and the overall decline is now greater than 50%.

Better news: the incarceration rate has finally stopped growing; this year it will probably decline. Less public hysteria about crime might support more intelligent – more effective and less pointlessly cruel – crime control policies. (Someone ought to write a book about that.

Bad news: The Times hed is “U.S. Crime Rates Fell Despite Economy.” Reporters still can’t get it out of their minds that crime naturally rises and falls with the unemployment rate. It doesn’t. (Update: Peter Yost of AP makes the same mistake: he credits the decline with “bucking a historical trend that links rising crime rates to economic woes.” But that “trend” is entirely imaginary. The Roaring Twenties were a high-crime period; the Great Depression was mostly peaceful. The economically stagnant Eisenhower era had crime rates at historic lows; the Kennedy-Johnson boom in economic growth accompanied an explosion in crime rates. The Great Crime Decline didn’t pause for the recession of 2000-2001. The idea that crime and economic activity move in opposite directions is what Mark Twain called “a vagrant opinion, existing with no visible means of support.”

Adam Serwer at Tapped on Kleiman:

In his book, When Brute Force Fails, Kleiman explains that a number of historical and social factors combined to create the crime boom of the latter part of the 20th century, the biggest factor was demographics.

“People commit most of their crimes between the age of 15 and 30, and so periods of time when there are more people in that age range have more crimes,” Kleiman explains. “In addition, a particularly big birth cohort like the Boomers, and to some extent, the Echo Boomers, tend to have a higher individual per-person crime rate.”

This, Kleiman says, also happens to explain some of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. “That’s why the baby bombers brought us sex, drugs and rock and roll while the 1950s teenagers didn’t. The 1950s teenagers were outnumbered by their elders, the ’60s teenagers outnumbered their elders.”

That’s not to say that public policy is irrelevant. More sensible enforcement strategies and less draconian corrections policies would go a long way toward alleviating the economic and social costs of mass incarceration, and subsequently the predictable cycle of criminal recidivism.

Daniel Griswold at Cato:

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

John J. Miller at The Corner:

Several prominent police chiefs warn that Arizona’s illegal-alien law will hurt crime control. The police chief of Prince William County in Virginia worried about the same thing three years ago, when county supervisors approved a policy that is a forerunner to Arizona’s action. Today, however, crime rates are at a 15-year low inPrince William County. My article in the current issue of NR describes the Prince William experience.

As it happens, crime rates have been going down for a long time in Prince William County. The latest numbers are part of a trend that started long before the county took a stand against illegal immigration. One thing is certain: The county’s current policy has not led to more crime, which is what the chiefs of Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are now predicting for Arizona.

Bob Goldsmith:

But the bigger question is why are crime rates dropping in a recession? You’d think more unemployed people would mean more theft, robbery and other economic crimes plus more frustration, and perhaps more violent crime as well. Yet crime statistics from the 20th century show that the Prohibition era of the 1920’s was far more violent than the Depression in the 30’s. Experts do not have many well accepted theories on what causes crime rates to rise and fall. Some scholars have suggested such theories as: greater numbers of immigrants, who tend to keep a low profile; as opposed to this, others assert more illegal immigration increases crime rates; public housing policy dispersing the poor may decrease rates; legalized abortion (so fewer unwanted children are born) may decrease; the crack epidemic in the 1980’s was thought to increase crime ; and changes in age distribution–e.g., the baby boom in the late 60’s and 70’s and the boomlet in the late 80’s and 90’s effect rates of crime..

The age distribution theory is probably the one most accepted. That is, crime rates tend to flow with the number of young males at a given time; the higher the proportion of young men in the population, the higher the crime rates since young men are by and large the biggest group of offenders. In fact, there is no strong statistical correlation between stricter law enforcement and longer sentences and the rise and fall of crime rates. See: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200808/when-crime-rates-go-down-recidivism-rates-go This just serves to show that politicians who emphasize ‘law and order’ as an issue may be just blowing smoke..

One interesting theory on why crimes rates might decline during a recession is it pulls families together, and this cohesion inhibits crime. More young people may move back home and are less influenced by their impulsive peers as well. There is also less economic activity in a recession so there is less interaction and opportunity for crime. Ironically, crime rates went up during the prosperity of the 1960’s and one theory is that with rising wealth, the havenots and the people left out are more bitter and turn to crime. In contrast, when everyone’s boat is sinking with the economic tide, there is more empathy, less jealousy and hence less crime. Of course none of this has been proven..

Finally, there are theories that smarter, better policing may reduce crime rates. For example, declining crime rates in New York City and Los Angeles are often ascribed to increases in the number of police on the streets, better computers for tracking crime, making precinct commanders accountable for managing crime in their districts, and an aggressive policy of searching people on the streets for guns. To be sure, the latter policy may deter crime, but makes it harder to obtain convictions if the Fourth Amendment is violated. Like many other factors, these claims of improved policing are unproven. Another possibility is that the increased use of very long 3 strikes sentences and federal mandatory sentences have cut back on the recdivist population. But that would not necessarily explain the drop from 2008-2009..

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

The New York Times begins its story by saying, “Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crimes rates fell significantly across the Unites States in 2009.” Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, “That’s a remarkable decline, given the economic conditions.”

Actually, it’s not all that remarkable. Crime rates, for example, fell significantly during the Great Depression. As David Rubinstein of the University of Illinois has pointed out, if you chart homicide beginning in 1900, its rates began to rise in 1905, continued through the prosperous 20s, and crested in 1933. They began to decline in 1934, as the Great Depression began to deepen. And between 1933 and 1940, the murder rate dropped by nearly 40 percent, while property crimes revealed a similar pattern. One possible explanation is that times of crisis, including economic crisis, create greater social cohesion.

The drop in all levels of crime since the early 90s has been staggering and counts as a truly remarkable success story. There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology. But surely advances in policing deserve a healthy share of the credit. As William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York has said: “We’ve gotten better at spotting crime trends more quickly. We can respond much more quickly.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that at a time when faith in many public institutions, including government and the media, is almost nonexistent, two institutions that command public trust are the military and law-enforcement officials. It’s no surprise, either, as they have impressive results to show for their efforts — from the battlefields in Iraq to the streets of New York.

One final thought: one of the things that characterized the 70s was a deep distrust of authority and of symbols of authority. Animus and disrespect were directed against our military and our cops. The former were accused of war crimes because of their service to our country in Vietnam; the latter were called pigs. Today the situation is dramatically reversed and dramatically better. In that sense, and in many other respects, our nation is a great deal better off than in the 70s.

We certainly have our share of social challenges. But in addressing them, we shouldn’t forget about the progress we have made, both practically and in terms of some of our social attitudes.

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The Mothership Connection: Hung Parliament Edition

Andrew Sullivan has 1,424 posts on the election. Alex Massie at TNR with a guide to blogs for the election.

From Sullivan and others, various live-blogs. Iain Martin at WSJ

Andrew Sparrow at The Guardian

Nate Silver

Sullivan:

Expect a ton of analysis and commentary on the Dish later today. But first a quick summary of yesterday’s coverage:

Massie provided a reading guide to Election Day, Nate Silver sketched out scenarios, Cameron sounded confident, and Andrew made a final push for the Tories. We tracked the exit polling here, here, here, here, here, and here. First results here and the latest here.

The Lib-Dems looked in trouble, a Lib-Lab coalition seemed doubtful, Julian Glover figured Brown was toast, Cameron and Brown kept their seats, James Forsyth sized up the spin, Bagehot assessed the high turnout, and Nick Robinson griped about all the problems at the polls. Henry Farrell worried about a Tory collapse, Tunku Varadarajan blundered, a reader sent a view from Ireland, Paul Mitchell glanced at hung parliaments around Europe, and Andrew wondered about the uncertain outcome.

Frank James at NPR:

The pollsters said before the British went to the polls Thursday that their results indicated that neither of the two major parties, the ruling Labor Party, or the Conservative Party, would have enough votes in its own right to form the next party.

And that appears to be how the election has played out, at least as of this writing there is no clear winner.

The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, led Labor in the seat count in the House of Commons, according to the BBC, which is frequently updating the numbers.

But the exit polls suggested that Conservatives would fall short of the 326 seats needed to form a majority by about 20 votes. The result: what the British call a hung Parliament, a government formed by the minority.

Cameron said the Labor Party had “lost its mandate to govern.” But experts said Cameron couldn’t claim a mandate either although his lead in the seat count gave him the ability to claim victory.

While Labor trailed, the fact that the party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown managed to deny the Conservatives the needed number of seats required to form a government outright, left the door open for Brown to try to win over enough support from the Liberal Democrats in order to retain power.

The Liberal Democrats didn’t do as well as they had hoped under their charismatic leader Nick Clegg whose candidacy caught fire during the campaign because of his performance in the first of three leader debates.

That the United Kingdom’s next leader was still unknown hours after the polls closed led some observers to compare the election to the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

BBC:

With results still coming in, the Tories have 294 seats in a hung parliament. He will say he plans to govern “in the national interest”.

Nick Clegg, leader of the third biggest party the Lib Dems, said the Tories had the first right to seek to govern.

But Labour leader Gordon Brown is also hoping for a deal with the Lib Dems.

He is expected to make a statement in Downing Street within the next half an hour.

Past practice under Britain’s unwritten constitution gives the sitting prime minister in a hung parliament the right to make the first attempt at forming a ruling coalition.

As counting continues the Tories have gained 93 seats, Labour have lost 87 and the Lib Dems five, despite hopes of a breakthrough for the third party.

Anne Applebaum at WaPo:

“Messy, messy, messy” wrote the Daily Telegraph at 2.48 a.m. GMT. It’s hard to argue with that assessment: The most exciting British election in recent memory has produced a riot of confusing statistics and contradictory results. The Tories appear to have won the most parliamentary seats, but not a majority. Huge numbers of voters swung against Labour in traditionally “safe” constituencies, but the party unexpectedly picked up some new seats elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg proved to be the man you flirt with but never marry: Having given the Liberal Democrat leader a huge surge in the opinion polls, the British public failed to vote for his party on election night. Despite their best campaign in memory, the LibDems now have fewer seats than before.

As a result of all this, I cannot tell you, as of 1:23 p.m. GMT, who will be the next prime minister of Britain, and that might not be crystal clear for some time.

Andrew Woodcock at The Independent:

David Cameron was today offered the keys to 10 Downing Street, after Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said that the Conservatives had the “first right” to seek to form a government in Britain’s first hung Parliament since 1974.

The Conservative leader will give his initial public response in a statement at 2.30 this afternoon, but it was thought far from certain that he would accept any deal with the Lib Dems which included reform of Westminster’s first-past-the-post voting system

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

What reminds me of Bush v. Gore is the jousting and muscling for one or another to just get out. The Tories are making dramatic statements about Labour’s “humiliating” defeat and that, as David Cameron said, it’s “clear that the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern.”

Don’t get me wrong. Those statements are hard to quibble with. But obviously numbers should speak for themselves. But it’s in these cases where the actual result is unknown but also ambiguous that you’ve got these chest-thumping efforts to force the other guy off the stage, to create a fait accompli where the votes won’t quite do it themselves.

You can watch the latest numbers and BBC video feed here.

UPDATE: More Massie

BBC

Iain Murray at The Corner

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On The Avenue I’m Taking You To, Forty-Fifth Street

Al Baker and William K. Rashbaum in the NYT:

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.

Steve Benen:

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.

Allah Pundit:

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.

Ben Williams at New York Magazine:

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.”

Mark Steyn at The Corner:

While the initial US reports on the Times Square car bomb concentrated on the by now traditional denials that this was anything to do with terrorism and, even if it was, it was “amateurish”, the Telegraph in Britain was the first to note the parking space:

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.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker at Powerline

Michelle Malkin

Daniel Foster at The Corner

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Spencer Ackerman

UPDATE #2: James Fallows

Fox News

UPDATE #3: Jules Crittenden

Mark Steyn at The Corner

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #4: Frank James at NPR

UPDATE #5: Doug Mataconis

Brian Palmer at Slate

UPDATE #6: Dana Mangan at New York Post

Mary Katherine Ham at The Weekly Standard

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