Tag Archives: Village Voice

The King Hearings… A Small Sampling

Mark Memmott at NPR:

The House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing on what Chairman Peter King (R-NY) says is the domestic threat from “Muslim radicalization” continues on Capitol Hill. We posted earlier on the emotional testimony from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress and on a father’s warning about the “extremist invaders” who he says programmed his son to kill.

King, as you can see in this video from The Associated Press, said he will not “back down … to political correctness.”

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” King said

Chris Good at The Altantic:

In a move that’s stirred much criticism, New York Rep. Peter King on Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, will hold a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee examining radicalization among American Muslims.

Not since the Bush administration has public debate erupted so sharply over whether a particular congressional hearing should even be held.

King says the hearing is “absolutely necessary.” Radicalization exists in the Muslim community in America, and it’s his job as committee chairman to fully investigate it, King has said.

“I have no choice. I have to hold these hearings. These hearings are absolutely essential. What I’m doing is taking the next logical step from what the administration has been saying. Eric Holder says he lies awake at night worrying about the growing radicalization of people in this country who are willing to take up arms against their government. I believe that the leadership, too many leaders in the Muslim community do not face up to that reality,” King recently told CNN’s Dana Bash.

“I never want to wake up the morning after another attack and say if only I had done what I should have done as homeland security chairman, this wouldn’t have happened,” said King, who represents a district on Long Island.

Others don’t see it that way: Many have raised questions about whether King is wrong to single out a particular religious group. Comparisons to McCarthyism have being raised.

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, spoke this morning at the controversial hearings led by Long Island Republican congressman Peter King, and broke down in tears while telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an American citizen from Pakistan, who died in the Septemper 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Ellison first warned of the dangers of “ascribing evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community,” before sobbing through the story of Hamdani, who was slandered when he went missing on 9/11, accused of being complicit in the attack. “His life should not be indentified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion,” Ellison said, “but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”

King, meanwhile, announced today that he has had around-the-clock security since late last year, when he announced plans to hold hearings that examine recruitment for Al Qaeda and the threat of “radicalization.”

More important is Ellison’s moving plea. If this country has any sense, his impassioned testimony will be the lasting image from this detrimental sham masquerading as government action.

David Weigel:

Much of the liberal opposition to Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Muslim radicalism today has focused on King himself — his past support of the IRA, his treasure trove of heated comments about terrorism.

That came to the fore just now, after Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee’s ranking member, asked about the implications of a member of Congress saying there were “too many mosques.” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., took umbrage at that.

“I haven’t heard any member of our committee say there’s too many mosques,” he said. The implication was shameful.

King briefly took the microphone. It was him, he said: “I’d said there are too many mosques.”

Indeed, he sort of did. It’s complicated. In 2007, he said those exact words in a Politico interview, but immediately pointed out that they were taken out of context — he meant to say* that there are “too many mosques not cooperating with law enforcement.”

Rep. Peter King: There Are Too Many Mosques In The US

It was just one skirmish in the long-running war between King and CAIR et al.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

I’m of two minds about the hearings on domestic terrorism that Rep. Peter King is holding today. I’ve been a staunch defender of Muslims–of their patriotic record as American citizens, of their right to build houses of worship anywhere they want, including near Ground Zero. But let’s face it: there have been a skein of attacks over the past year–starting with the Fort Hood massacre and running through the aborted Times Square bombing–that have been attempted by U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslims. This is something new and, I think, it is a phenomenon that needs to be (a) acknowledged and (b) investigated as calmly and fairly as possible.

I’m not sure that King, an excitable bloviator, is the right person to conduct the hearings–but we need to know whether there is a pattern here, whether there are specific mosques that have been incubators, and how much an influence the American-born terrorist Anwar Awlaki, who is now living somewhere in Yemen, has been. We should do this with the assumption that American muslim terrorists are about as common as American Christian anti-abortion terrorists. We should do it as sensitively as possible, with the strong assertion that Islamophobia is unacceptable in America. But we should do it.

Rick Moran:

This is such a no-brainer issue that the only possible reason to oppose King’s hearings is to score political points. There is no earthly reason that Muslims should oppose rooting out radicals in their midst – especially since law enforcement says that either out of fear or anti-Americanism, many ordinary Muslims do not cooperate with the police or FBI.

I have a feeling this hearing is going to be an eye opener. And that might be why some Muslims are so opposed to having it.

Jennifer Rubin:

The notion that we should ignore the obvious in an attempt to curry favor with “moderate” Muslims here in the U.S. and to avoid offending those overseas is badly misguided. For starters, it assumes that those audiences are infantile in their inability to distinguish, as the rest of us do, the difference between radicalized, murderous Islamic fundamentalists and those who pose no threat whatsoever. In doing so, we only serve to undermine the efforts of those non-radicalized Muslims abroad who could use some assistance, even if it is only rhetorical in pushing back against extremists.

Moreover, it glosses over a real issue in the U.S.: a number of groups who offer themselves as “moderate” and with whom the administration consults are not helping matters, as evidence by the fit thrown over the prospect of examining how their fellow Muslims turn to murder and mayhem. Let’s take CAIR, for example. This ostensibly anti-discrimination group has refused to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. As I wrote last year:

CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.)

It’s not hard to figure out why public discussion of all this strikes fear in the hearts of those who would rather not see a public accounting of their actions. But even the administration has to acknowledge that failure to identify, understand and combat the role of Islamic fundamentalists’ recruitment of Americans is foolhardy in the extreme. And, so, lo and behold, we learn, “While the thrust of McDonough’s remarks seemed aimed at declaring common cause with the Muslim community, the White House official was also careful not to minimize the dangers posed by efforts to radicalize Muslims inside the United States. He also managed to announce, in advance of King’s hearings, that the administration will soon roll out a comprehensive plan aimed at combating the radicalization effort.” Well, I suppose CAIR won’t like that either.

If King’s hearings have spurred the administration to get off the stick and begin work on this issue, they are already a success. And if nothing else they have exposed just how unhelpful some Muslim American groups are in the war against Islamic jihadists.

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Filed under GWOT, Political Figures, Religion

The “Where’s The Beef?” Lady Is Probably Dead By Now

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic:

Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef” appears to be a clever mirage. That’s what an Alabama law firm is alleging when it slapped the chain with a “false advertising” suit for misleading customers about the actual content of its Taco fillings. Surprise! The “meat” is only 36 percent actual beef.

Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo:

Taco Bell “beef” pseudo-Mexican delicacies are really made of a gross mixture called “Taco Meat Filling” as shown on their big container’s labels, like the one pictured here. The list of ingredients is gruesome. Updated.

Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.

It looks bad but passable… until you learn that—according to the Alabama law firm suing Taco Bell—only 36% of that is beef. Thirty-six percent. The other 64% is mostly tasteless fibers, various industrial additives and some flavoring and coloring. Everything is processed into a mass that actually looks like beef, and packed into big containers labeled as “taco meat filling.” These containers get shipped to Taco Bell’s outlets and cooked into something that looks like beef, is called beef and is advertised as beef by the fast food chain.

Can you call beef something that looks like ground beef but it’s 64% lots-of-other-stuff? Taco Bell thinks they can.

Jonathan Turley:

Taco Bell Corporation spokesman Rob Poetsch responded by saying that “Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We’re happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit.” That is an interesting statement. It does not appear to deny that it is serving marginal beef products but that the company never really promised anything more than it serves. Presumably, if the company issued a statement that it was in fact serving “beef” in response to this lawsuit, it could be cited as part of the alleged effort to deceive in advertising (assuming they are not serving “beef” as defined by federal law).

The class action alleges the company is serving what is referred to as “taco meat filling, which is comprised mainly of “extenders” and other non-meat substances, including wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate as well as beef and seasonings. Of course, the company could claim that it is the anti-dusting agents and maltrodrexin that gives it that “high quality Mexican inspired food” taste but it would not actually have most Americans “running to the border.”

MB Quirk at The Consumerist:

Hey, at least they’re making the distinction of “Mexican inspired food,” although that might be stretching it, too.

Robert Sietsema at The Village Voice:

Five Reasons You Should Hate Taco Bell, Besides the Lack of Real Meat

1. Meat, schmeat – are you ever certain of the meat supply at any fast food outlet? A few years ago, there was a website that claimed the average McDonald’s hamburger had been lodged in permafrost for around three years before it was thawed and served at an outlet. The rancid meat explains the odd smell you associate with stepping into a McDonalds.

2. When you order something made with ground meat (we used to call it “mystery meat” in school), you get exactly what you deserve. I’m much more annoyed by the other ingredients at Taco Bell – the gummy flour tortillas that turn into glue in your mouth, or the weird micro-“cheese” curls that seem to be poking out of every orifice: The white ones look exactly like pinworms.

3. The astonishing lack of spice in nearly everything you get at TB (that’s Taco Bell, not tuberculosis – though maybe you’ll get that, too, if you linger long enough). And the little plastic packets containing what tastes like Tabasco — when there are zillions of authentic Mexican hot sauces available — don’t help at all.

4. What Taco Bell has done to Mexican food, which – with its dependence on minimally refined corn products, beans, and fresh vegetables – must be one of the healthiest cuisines on earth, is criminal! The chiles, cumin, oregano, scallions, and other herbs and spices seem to be entirely missing, and in their place, bad mayo.

5. Have you ever seen a Mexican eating in Taco Bell?

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Filed under Economics, Food

This Story You Will Be Talking About Tomorrow

Mark Joyella at Mediaite:

Sources tell Mediaite Keith Olbermann and MSNBC were headed for a breakup long before Comcast’s rise to power, but clearly something set the divorce into motion quickly today, with network promos set to run touting Olbermann’s role in MSNBC’s coverage of next week’s State of the Union address–and, notably, a Keith Olbermann promo running on MSNBC in the hour after the host signed off and left the network.

MSNBC executives have long planned for the day the network’s star might be sent packing, and the rise of Rachel Maddow at MSNBC–along with the grooming of Lawrence O’Donnell as a potential replacement for Olbermann–appears to have hastened the host’s departure.

While Olbermann and his iconic Countdown have been immensely important in the resurgence of MSNBC, Olbermann’s friction with management has been a sticking point. At many points–including the recent suspension over political contributions–tensions rose so high as to lead to serious discussions inside MSNBC about firing their star.

With Maddow enjoying both immense popularity inside MSNBC and very strong ratings for her Rachel Maddow Show, Olbermann’s invincibility as the heart and soul of MSNBC’s brand became softer. In recent weeks, sources tell Mediaite there have been meetings on the topic of Keith Olbermann and his future at the network. Did Comcast–as many Countdown viewers seem to suspect–order Olbermann out? It appears that the end of the Olbermann era at MSNBC was not “ordered” by Comcast, nor was it a move to tone down the network’s politics. Instead, sources inside the network say it came down to the more mundane world of office politics–Olbermann was a difficult employee, who clashed with bosses, colleagues and underlings alike, and with the Comcast-related departure of Jeff Zucker, and the rise of Maddow and O’Donnell, the landscape shifted, making an Olbermann exit suddenly seem well-timed.

Howard Kurtz at Daily Beast:

Whatever his excesses, he led third-place MSNBC out of the cable wilderness to the point where it overtook CNN in prime time, boosted not only by his numbers but by those of his protégé, Rachel Maddow.

Without question, he was a polarizing presence, and several NBC veterans, including Tom Brokaw, complained to network management that he was damaging MSNBC’s reputation for independence.

At a meeting with Olbermann’s representatives last September, NBC Chief Executive Jeff Zucker and NBC News President Steve Capus said that some of their client’s behavior was unacceptable and had to stop. Griffin said that Olbermann’s personal problems were affecting his work and he looked angrier on the air, eclipsing the smart and ironic anchor they had once loved.

In November, when Griffin suspended Olbermann indefinitely over the political donations, the two sides engaged in blistering negotiations over how long it would last. Olbermann’s manager, Price, warned Griffin that if the matter wasn’t resolved quickly, Olbermann would take his complaints public by accepting invitations from Good Morning America, David Letterman, and Larry King.

“If you go on GMA, I will fire Keith,” Griffin shot back.

The suspension wound up lasting just two days, and Olbermann said he was sorry for the “unnecessary drama” and “for having mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule” in making the $7,200 in contributions. But after years of internal warfare, Olbermann had no major allies left at 30 Rock.

There were similar backstage struggles in 2008 and 2009 when top executives tried to get Olbermann and O’Reilly to tone down their personal attacks. O’Reilly, who never mentions Olbermann by name, was assailing NBC’s parent company, General Electric, while Olbermann once imagined the fate of “a poor kid” born to a transgendered man who became pregnant, adding: “Kind of like life at home for Bill’s kids.”

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

I was just on in the opening segment of Olbermann tonight. And I get home and get this press release from NBC saying this was the last episode of Countdown. At first I figured it had to be a spoof email because, jeez, I was on and I didn’t have any sense that any other than a regular Friday evening show was on. But sure enough I pulled up the recording and now I’m watching his final sign off.

I doubt I would have had any heads up or known anything was happening if Olbermann was going to go off the air. But I was a bit more stunned than I might otherwise have been because I was just over there. And I did not have any sense that there was anything any different than normal going on. Everything seemed calm and pretty sedate. I didn’t sense anything different in Keith’s manner or affect (though it’s not like we’re tight and I would have been the person to notice.) There were a few more people than I’m used to seeing in the studio — maybe two or three, seated, who seemed to be there to watch. (Something I don’t remember seeing before.) But nothing that made me think twice that anything odd was going on.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing soon enough what on earth happened here. But color me stunned. And really disappointed.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Keith Olbermann and I started from the same place, the same school, the same English teacher–Arthur Naething–who changed our lives. I’ve always had a soft spot for Keith as a result, even when he called me one of the worst people in the world (based on a wildly inaccurate interpretation of something I’d written). I’ve criticized him, too, for his melodramatically over-the-top effusions. I’m not so sure what this dispute with MSNBC is all about, but I’m sad that Keith won’t be around (at least, for a while). If there is a place for the nonsense-spew of Fox News, there has to be a place on my cable dial for Olbermann (who, while occasionally obnoxious, operates from a base of reality–unlike some people we know [see below]). Keith is a brilliant writer, and presenter; I always enjoy watching him, even when he’s occasionally wrong. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do so again soon. In the meantime, I hope he’ll heed the words of the master and “Go forth, and spread beauty and light.”

On another decidedly hilarious front, Glenn Beck has found yet another enemy of the people in a 78-year-old Columbia University professor named Frances Fox Piven. I’ve always thought that Piven’s work was foolish and inhumane. There was a brief, disastrous time in the 1960s when her desire to flood the welfare system with new recipients was the tacit policy of the city of New York, which produced absolutely terrible results–as Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted–in the 1970s and 1980s. I also remember Piven railing against a brilliantly successful welfare-to-work program called “America Works” because it was for-profit, even though the company only was paid by the government if the recipient remained on the job for six months (and even though the ability to do honorable work gave the women involved new-found confidence, according to study after study of the results). But the notion that Piven’s ideas had any widespread influence, or are even worth commenting on 45 years later, is beyond absurd; it is another case of Beck’s show-paranoid perversity. It seems academic and sophisticated, to those who don’t know any better: Glenn’s soooo erudite, he’s found a secret part of The Plan to turn America into a socialist gulag, hatched by a college professor. The reality is that he’s focused onto an obscure form of left-liberalism that was found wanting a long time ago, as the sociological results of Aid to Families with Dependent Children became known, and better ways to help the poor were developed.

Beck’s essential sin is a matter of proportionality. He has, as ever, latched onto an obscurity, blown it out of proportion–as he did with Van Jones’ stupid but essentially harmless comments about communism–and turned it into a lie. He is an extraordinary liar, on matters large and small, as I’ve learned from personal experience with the man. That Beck remains on the air and Keith Olbermann–unpleasant and extreme at times, but no fantasist–isn’t anymore is a travesty.

What of Olbermann’s legacy? There’s a great deal of crowing on the right about Olbermann’s apparent ouster. But let’s be clear on what he accomplished: He helped clear a huge space on the airwaves for “unapologetic liberalism,” as Steve Benen puts it, when it remained anything but certain that such a space could be created with any measure of success.

The unexpected popularity of Olbermann’s show early on cleared the way for MSNBC to stack its nighttime lineup with pugnacious lefty hosts. Indeed, it was Olbermann who invited Rachel Maddow on repeatedly as a guest, raising her profile to the point where she got her own show. Olbermann, followed by Maddow, proved in the face of enormous skepticism that there’s a huge audience out there for real liberal talk-show hosts to adopt the sort of take-no-prisoners approach once monopolized by the right. Only they accomplished this without descending into the crackpot conspiracy mongering and all-around ugliness of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Indeed, there’s already talk that CNN might be interested in picking up Olbermann. While that seems unlikely, given CNN’s more staid air, the mere fact that it’s being discussed at all shows how much he helped change the landscape.

Olbermann may be gone, but the space he did so much to help create is here to stay.

Joe Coscarelli at Village Voice:

Though it’s as of yet impossible to answer the question “Why?” in regards to Olbermann’s dismissal, what is on the record is how trying he was to manage. Back in October, there was Gabriel Sherman’s account in New York of the cable news wars with tidbits like this:

But Olbermann can take his eccentricities to extremes. There’s a story that he told his producers to communicate with him by leaving notes in a small box positioned outside his office. Last spring, after David Shuster tweeted that he was guest-hosting Countdown while Olbermann was out sick, Olbermann erupted when a blog mentioned Shuster’s tweet and he fired off an e-mail to him saying, “Don’t ever talk about me and medical issues again.” Olbermann’s executive producer later told Shuster that there’s a rule against mentioning Olbermann on Twitter.

And more of the same in the Times today:

Mr. Olbermann was within one move of being fired in November after he was suspended for making donations to Democratic Congressional candidates. He threatened to make an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to protest the suspension; Mr. Zucker was prepared to fire him on the spot if he did, according to a senior NBC Universal executive who declined to be identified in discussing confidential deliberations.

Many questions remains, but if he’s not in the mood for a vacation, Olbermann does have options, namely radio or the internet. So he should join us and he needn’t worry — here, everyone is an asshole.

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Filed under Mainstream, TV

Yes, We Know That Hammer And Slammer Rhyme

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up:

In a long fall from grace, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison for “conspiring to direct laundered corporate money” to seven state house candidates in 2002. In his prime, DeLay was one of the most powerful men in Congress, holding the second highest spot in the House of Representatives. “What we feel is that justice was served,” said lead prosecutor Gary Cobb in the aftermath of the ruling. Meanwhile, DeLay firmly maintained his innocence. “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did,” he said. He promised to appeal the ruling. Did the former House majority leader get off easy?

Jen Doll at The Village Voice:

DeLay was taken into custody, but will be released on a $10,000 bond pending appeal after he’s processed, which means he could remain free for months or years as his appeal goes through.

National Review:

The man who should be on trial in Texas is Ronnie Earle, the unethical Travis County prosecutor who went after DeLay as part of a political vendetta fueled by his bizarre belief that business owners’ political activities are “every bit as insidious as terrorism.” (Tell that to the almost 3,000 Americans who were murdered on 9/11.) How do we know Earle believes that? Because he had a documentary film crew follow him around as he pursued the indictment of DeLay, producing a film called The Big Buy that Earle used to try to win higher office in Texas. He used the same unprofessional and unethical tactics to prosecute Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (her case was thrown out by a judge) and former Texas attorney general Jim Mattox, who was acquitted and won reelection.

This was a phony prosecution from the very beginning. It took Earle three separate attempts before he could get a case that a grand jury or a judge would not throw out. Then he got DeLay indicted for behavior that was perfectly legitimate under campaign-finance laws, identical to the kind of fundraising done by practically every campaign committee and candidate in the country.

DeLay solicited $155,000 in contributions for a political-action committee he headed and contributed $190,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee (RNSEC); the RNSEC then contributed $877,000 to 42 state and local candidates in Texas in the final two months of the 2002 campaign, including seven recommended by DeLay. For this routine act of campaign financing, DeLay was charged with and convicted of criminal money laundering, a crime defined by knowingly using the proceeds of criminal activity. Since these contributions were all legal, the most basic element of this supposed crime could not be met; nonetheless, Earle drove the case forward in one of the most outrageous prosecutorial abuses of criminal law that we have seen in decades. Meanwhile Earle indicted a number of companies, including Sears, that had made perfectly legal contributions to DeLay’s PAC, and then sold those companies dismissals in exchange for donations to one of his favorite charities.

Government prosecutors have a duty and an obligation to enforce the law judiciously and fairly. The power they are given by society is immense, and so is the damage they can do when they abuse that power. Ronnie Earle has showed in case after case that he is a self-serving ideologue, a crass opportunist who uses his power as a prosecutor to pursue his own political and ideological agenda.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I bet he comes out of this advocating prison reform. It’s a cause that badly needs more high-profile conservative advocates.

David Frum at FrumForum:

I won’t pretend to any expertise on this question but … Doesn’t Citizens United raise at least some question about the campaign finance laws on which Tom DeLay was convicted? Seems an obvious challenge on appeal and at the Supreme Court. What do readers think?

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

He spoke to the court prior to sentencing, saying “I fought the fight. I ran the race. I kept the faith.” Former Speaker Denny Hastert also testified as a character witness on behalf of DeLay. Prosecutors showed a tape in court of DeLay’s comments after conviction, when he said, “Maybe we can get it before people who understand the law.”

I’d expect an appeal, so whether or not DeLay sees jail time right away depends on the judge’s decision to allow his release on bond.

Brian Doherty at Reason:

Undoubtedly DeLay as a former leading congressman is a criminal. Whether this particular interpretation of a law blocking free support and expression in politics is a proper bludgeon, I’d say no.

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Filed under Crime, Political Figures

Where Is Alfred Hitchcock When We Need Him?

Nick Neely at Audubon:

On New Year’s Eve, sometime after 11 p.m., several thousand red-winged blackbirds dropped lifelessly from the darkness onto suburban lawns, roofs, and roads in the small town of Beebe, Arkansas. “I thought the mayor was messing with me when he called me,” Milton McCullar, Beebe Street Dept. Supervisor, said to the local TV station the next day with a (nervous?) grin. “He got me up at four o’clock in the morning and told me we had birds falling out of the sky.” “When you first get the call, you think it’s a New Year’s joke,” said the mayor, Mike Robertson, himself. “But it wasn’t a joke.” News outlets quickly picked up the story, and today, it has twittered about. There are no conclusions yet as to why the birds perished—a hailstorm, perhaps, or even stress from nearby fireworks—and no one seems to have much to say about the incident, but for, look here, at this strange, ominous (and yes, Hitchcockian) thing.

Michael Marshall at The New Scientist:

Most such rains of animals are probably caused by waterspouts: tornadoes that move over water. Waterspouts can suck up soil and small animals in large quantities, and dump them many miles away after they dissipate. This explains why the animals most commonly reported as falling are fish and frogs, which of course live in and around water.

The blackbirds aren’t the only mystery animals in Arkansas. 100,000 fish have died in a river 125 miles from Beebe. It’s not clear what killed them but disease may be to blame. There’s nothing to suggest the two events are linked.

Besides animals, other peculiar things have fallen from the sky over the years. Scientists have long struggled to understand the “red rain” that fell in Kerala, India, in 2001. The colour has been attributed to algae, but a few researchers think the microbes in question came from space.

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

When thousands of red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve in Beebe, Arkansas, it seemed like God was angry at the Natural State, especially considering the additional 100,000 dead fish in a nearby river. “I’m not drunk and I’m not on drugs,” said one local when he called the police department. “She said, ‘Oh, you’re calling about the birds.'” A handful of the fallen creatures were taken in for testing, but officials are now saying that loud noises, probably from fireworks, scared the birds, causing them to slam into trees or houses and that the weather had nothing to do with it. Extraterrestrials are still suspected.Via the Wall Street Journal:

A witness reported that the birds, which roost in the area in large numbers and don’t see well at night, were scared by the noise and slammed into houses and trees, said Arkansas State Veterinarian George Badley. A study of several carcasses showed the birds died of internal bleeding.”We’re still checking for germs and poisons, but we believe it was just trauma,” said Dr. Badley.

The total dead is somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000, but that’s not counting the 500 red-winged blackbirds found in Louisiana, in what CNN calls a “seemingly separate incident.”

Clay Dillow at Popular Science:

Later yesterday, other sources were reporting that loud noise could have been behind the Arkansas incident. Necropsies performed yesterday showed the Arkansas birds suffered internal injuries that formed blood clots that went to their brains. It’s conceivable that loud noise (NYE fireworks?) could have startled a flock, causing them to rapidly change course and plunge headlong into buildings or tall trees, sustaining blunt traumas that led to their collective death.

Of course, none of this accounts for the 500 freshly dead birds in Louisiana. Those, of course, could be completely unrelated to the Arkansas birds (don’t be fooled by randomness, people). But we like a good conspiracy theory better. Besides, what about all those dead drum? Something smells fishy indeed, but who could possibly benefit from knocking off a bunch of birds in the American south? NASA? BP? Aliens? Our money is on Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who was never really afforded an opportunity to even the score with his avian nemeses.

Roz Zurko at The Examiner:

Many people are looking to the bible for verses conveying the warnings of the apocalypse with dead birds, but according to the website God Discussion, this does not seem to be mentioned. There are bible writings that are close, but not that convey the end of the world or harm coming to mankind affliated with dead birds.

2012 Prophecies have some people concerned after the dead birds fell from the sky, according to one commentator on Fox News live. According to the God Discussion website, the first searches for this story consisted mainly of the search words “dead birds.” Later, as the day went on, the search words turned to “dead birds” and “bible.”  These dead birds have many people wondering today – what is the spiritual meaning in masses of dead birds falling from he sky?

One Connecticut housewife L. Kelly, admitted she did the same Internet search that many others did today, “dead birds” and “bible.” “It is just an eerie thing to happen, not something you ever hear about Kelly said.”  She too fell on many confusing claims, but nothing that states the bible has a quote about dead birds and the end of the world is coming.

Christopher Rosen at Moveline:

Point of truth: Here at Movieline HQ, we’re busy stocking up on batteries and canned goods in the wake of the mass bird and fish deaths that happened in Arkansas over the weekend. (Not to mention the flooding in Australia.) That said, not everyone has worked themselves up into a full blown lather of panic. Just ask born-again Christian Kirk Cameron: “I think it’s really kind of silly to kind of equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.” Wait, even Cameron is making sense? Maybe this really is the end of times.

Laura Conaway at MaddowBlog:

But take heart: Though this story seems strange and even apocalyptic, it’s not necessarily so. The Baton Rouge paper cites an official from the U.S. Geological Survey as saying that a thousand or more blackbirds have turned up dead some 16 times in the past 30 years.

 

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It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s A Tweet From Cory Booker!

Cory Booker’s twitter feed

Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair:

Newark mayor Cory Booker is now taking requests from snowed-in constituents. Since the East Coast blizzard hit on Sunday, residents of Newark have been tweeting appeals for Booker to dispatch snowplows and rescue vehicles to specific streets and neighborhoods. “I need street names and patience,” he told one cold and concerned tweeter. We simply cannot wait for the graphic-novelization (and subsequent Zack Snyder movie!) of Booker’s post-blizzard Twitter feed. (@CoryBooker, can you make this happen?) Let’s review his 10 most heroic moments thus far.

10. “will get someone to your mom’s street, tell her to stay put RT @sexylp40 my mom stuck on 9th ave and 12th that whole block wasn’t plowed”

9. “Can u DM me his phone #?RT @NewNewark: @corybooker rec this text Tell mayor, Mr Lou Jones 224 Richileu ter. He’s disabled needs help.”

8. “I seriously had that fantasy today RT @papistorz: wouldn’t it b easier 2 get a flame thrower n melt the snow?”

7. “God Bless the 5 guys who just stopped to help me dig a van out. I am so grateful for all of Newark’s heroes today.”

6. “I’m coming on the scene now RT @Cutiepie27: come on orange st. and help this truck get out the snow he been stuck for like 30 minutes now”

5. “Sending team immediately back there 2 ensure hospital is clear RT @Babihead: still has yet to clean my street & I live across from hospital!”

4. “I just doug out ur car. All the best RT @MsXmasBaby: Is there NE city volunteers 2 dig some1 out? I’m going 2 have medical procedure done”

3. “Just doug a car out on Springfield Ave and broke the cardinal rule: ‘Lift with your Knees!!’ I think I left part of my back back there”

2. “Just freed a med transport van here at Cottage Place in Central Ward. Private contractor needs 2 be arrested 4 leaving these folks stranded”

1. “Thanks 4 asking, back killing me: Breakfast: Advil and diet coke RT @itsmywayRob Hows ur back from lifting car last night? I hope u’re OK”

Jen Doll at The Village Voice:

A hero has emerged from all the snowflake rubble and ice, and that hero is Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Yesterday Myles (who’s out shoveling as we speak!) mentioned that Booker had been delivering diapers to babies, patroling the streets with his trusty shovel, and even helping kids understand the strength-in-numbers beauty of a snowflake, all the while Tweeting his aid to those who need it

Sam Gustin at Wired:

But Booker’s Twitter clinic wasn’t the only innovative use of social and web-based media during the Snowmageddon of December 2010.

By Tuesday morning, tech-savvy citizens were using Ushahidi, a crowdsourced mapping tool, to collect reports of various problems around New York.

Snowmageddon Clean-Up: New York had more than 100 reports by midday Tuesday, detailing such issues as: “Multiple elders on this block as well as a disabled young adult. Should an emergency arise, the City will have a lawsuit on their hands.” And: “Entire apartment complex snowed in. We cant get out. running out of food…” (That one’s from Highlands, New Jersey, but you get the, uh, drift.)

David Freedlander at The New York Observer:

At Mayor Bloomberg’s Bronx news conference today, The Politicker asked Hizzoner if he had been peering over the river to check out his friend Cory Booker’s efforts to deal with the snow clean-up. Bloomberg after all has been swamped by criticism for suggesting that New Yorkers take advantage of being unable to get out of their homes the Snow Day by checking out Broadway shows.

Booker, on the other hand, earned the nickname “Mayor Plow” for delivering diapers to a housebound mother, digging out snowbound seniors, and for responding to residents’ pleas for snowplows personally via Twitter.

In response to our question, the mayor replied, “I think Cory Booker is a great mayor. And what’s appropriate for Newark and for his people, I am certainly going to take a look and see what he is doing. I am going to call him this afternoon and say, ‘Hey, you know, what are you doing?'”

When pressed by another reporter if Booker was being lauded for presenting an image of working hard to help his constituents deal with the blizzard, Bloomberg said, “I’d like to think that we have that image as well. I can’t work much harder.”

Now Booker has weighed in (via Twitter, of course) writing, “People far 2 rough on @mikebloomberg – still fighting 2 clear snow in NWK & we are 1/29th size of NYC.”

Doug Mataconis:

Nonetheless, Booker’s hands-on approach to digging his city out of the snow has garnered international attention. It’s not a gimmick either. Since becoming Mayor, Booker has been active in turning Newark around after decades of being governed by mostly corrupt Mayors, and he’s allied himself with Governor Christie on issues like education reform even though the two of them come from different political parties. And on that note, there has already been talk among New Jersey Democrats of nominating Booker for Governor in 2013, although nobody seems to know if he’s actually interested in running for that office. If he does run, though, Booker may find that just as snowstorms have been the downfall of politicians like New York Mayor John Lindsey,Chicago Mayor Michael Blandic and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Cory Booker could be proof that actively responding to constituents and helping them through a crisis works to a politicians benefits.

Credit for The Simpsons reference must go to Jake Tapper. But everyone would have thought if it eventually.

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And He Was Installing The Alarm System, Too…

Melissa Bell at WaPo:

One oft-told tale of Pablo Picasso is that when presented with a bill at a bar, he’d whip off a sketch on a napkin, sign and date it, and the bill would be considered paid. The artist produced some 20,000 pieces of work in his long life, the Metropolitan Museum of Art told the Associated Press. And 271 of those pieces have just been discovered in a trunk at a retired French electrician’s home.

Jeff Neumann at Gawker:

A retired French electrician, Pierre Le Guennecsays he has “hundreds” of Picasso paintings, notebooks, lithographs and a watercolor believed to be worth around 60 million euros, which he claims Picasso gave him as a gift. Picasso’s son disagrees.

Tyler Cowen

Kate Deimling at Art Info:

Including lithographs, paintings, drawings, and a Blue Period watercolor — none of which appears in the inventory of Picasso’s estate — the trove is valued at €60 million ($79 million), according to French paper Libération, which broke the story. Experts estimate the nine Cubist collages alone to be worth €40 million ($53 million). The 71-year-old electrician managed to have the works authenticated by the artist’s estate in September, but the estate subsequently sued for possession of stolen goods and the works were seized last month by the Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels, the French art-trafficking squad.

Jonathan Turley:

The very notion of 271 new Picasso paintings is amazing. The man worked for Picasso in the 1970s and this could create a fascinating contest over credibility if has no written record. The absence of any prior disclosure certainly makes the claim somewhat suspicious. Such cases can become the ultimate jury question — with members looking at the practices of the artist. It is quite common for many artists to give away their works, even as payment for services. This number of paintings, however, would represent a lot of work or a lot of friendship. It is also striking that the paintings were not previously known to be missing.

Picasso died a few years later and was already an international superstar in the art field. This was not some starving painter trading paintings for baguettes. Moreover, it is hard to see how much of a friendship could have developed over the course of the installation of a security system. Of course, there is always the possibility that Picasso was simply eccentric and a bit daffy in his final years. Anyway it goes, it should make for an interesting tort or criminal case or both.

Jen Doll at Village Voice:

Aspiring screenwriters, take note. This is a plot goldmine.

Let the art ownership battle begin.

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A Stabbing In A New York City Taxi Cab

Foster Kamer at The Village Voice:

A cab driver picked up a 21-year-old fare yesterday in Murray Hill on 24th and Second around 6 p.m. The fare — “visibly drunk” — gets in the cab, and reportedly asks the driver: “Are you a Muslim?” The driver answers that he is. And what happens next? The fare, as we’ve now heard, stabs the cab driver. Here’s where it gets strange:Michael Enright of Brewster, New York, who was booked on charges of attempted murder and assault with a weapon as a hate crime, is listed on Facebook as an employee of the New York City-based Intersections International, a “global initiative dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace across lines of faith, culture, ideology, race, class, national borders and other boundaries that divide humanity.” And a few weeks ago, they announced their support for — you guessed it — the Cordoba House, better known to many as the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Just to recap, again, via the New York Daily News, Enright got in the cab last night “visibly drunk,” asked the driver if he was a Muslim, and proceeded to do this:

[Takes] out the knife from his Leatherman tool and stabbed the unsuspecting driver in the throat, upper lip, arm and hand, police said.

The driver, unidentified, escaped the cab, locked Enright in the back seat, and called the cops, who arrested and booked Micheal at the 17th Precinct on charges of attempted murder and assault with a weapon as a hate crime. He was presumably shipped off to Bellevue to get his head checked out and is being arraigned in court sometime today.

This doesn’t really distinguish itself from any other hate crime in too many ways, besides the fact that it was in broad daylight, and also, again, Enright was apparently trashed. But Murray Hill is, to many New Yorkers, a neighborhood synonymous with moneyed young white kids and the fratty bars they get sloshed at. But: This Michael Enright of Facebook is

(A) from Brewster, New York,
(B) Graduated from Brewster High School in 2007,
(C) is presumably living in New York City as he lists himself as a student at the School of Visual Arts and also,
(D) as an employee of Intersections International from August 2009 through “present.”

And on August 3, 2010, Intersections International came out with this press release:

Intersections supports the efforts of its partner organizations, The Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement, to develop a Community Center and Muslim prayer space, called “The Cordoba House,” at 47-51 Park Place in Manhattan. The vision is to create a place where individuals–regardless of race, faith or ethnicity–will find a center for learning, art, cultural expression and athletics; and most importantly, a center guided by the universal values of all religions–compassion, generosity, peace and human dignity.

Enright’s Facebook picture shows him wearing what appears to be a flack jacket in another country, for what it’s worth, but that’s not too telling of anything, which may or may not be Afghanistan, where the Michael Enright involved in this altercation was recently filming “military exercises” with a “combat unit” as reported by the New York Post.

Nick Rizzo at Mediaite:

Enright’s Facebook page also lists him as a supporter of Assemblyman Greg Ball, the maverick conservative Republican who represents his home district and is running a heated primary campaign for the New York State Senate.  While Ball is an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration (here’s a video of him talking about illegal immigration as he walks through Enright’s home town), he has never made a statement about the Cordoba House. Ball was unavailable for comment at press time.

Ben Smith at Politico:

Alleged anti-Muslim attacker works at pro-Park51 group

The apparent anti-Muslim assault on a New York city cabbie by a man shouting “Assalamu Alaikum. Consider this a checkpoint” produced an immediate round of recriminations over its connection to opposition to a New York Islamic Center and an apparent rising tide of Islamophobia.

But as often at the intersection of politics and violent crime, the story doesn’t appear to fit any easy stereotype: The alleged assailant, Michael Enright, is — according to his Facebook profile and the website of the left-leaning media organization Intersections International — a student at the School of Visual Arts and a volunteer for Intersections, which recently produced a statement of support for the Park51 project and is funded by the mainstream, liberal Collegiate Church of New York.

Intersections did not respond to two messages, and the group does not appear to be picking up the phone. Enright did not respond to a message through his Facebook account.

But this appears to be the same man: Police described Enright as a resident of Brewster, 21 years old, and an employee of an “Internet media company who had recently spent time with a combat unit in Afghanistan filming military exercises until this past May.”

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

At Politico, Ben Smith notes that Enright’s films were apparently sponsored by a left-leaning group called Intersections: Alleged anti-Muslim attacker works at pro-Park51 group.

Smith’s headline is a bit misleading, however, because Intersections is involved in many different projects, not just in supporting Park51. Enright was a volunteer filmmaker for Intersections, and there’s no reason to believe he was involved with or sympathetic to their support for Park51.

Donald Douglas:

Smith links to a Little Green Footballs update, where Charles conveniently ignores (safe link) his earlier allegations against “Fox News” and “right-wing websites,” and instead offers some lame dodge about how “there’s no reason to believe” Enright was involved with the Cordoba Initiative.

The non-profit, Intersections, has released a public statement.

And according to a 5:24PM EST update at New York Times:

Mr. Enright is a volunteer with Intersections International, a nonprofit that works to promote cross-cultural understanding and has spoken out in favor of the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero. Mr. Enright, who shuffled into court with a collared t-shirt, cargo shorts and shackles around his ankles, has also worked with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Martin said.

It’s now 3:00PM on the West Coast, and I don’t see an update or correction at Little Green Footballs.

I know most conservatives have long written off Charles Johnson as a disturbed crank. For me, well, C.J.’s pomposity’s both fascinating and funny — frustrating too, since the MFM gives him an unbelieveable amount of coverage and credibility. And of course, while I’d never hold my breath, Charles’ ignorant and unhinged rant on the cabbie attack deserves a retraction at the least. The guy’s a tool.

*******

Special Note: I thank God the cabbie, Ahmed H. Sharif, a Bangladeshi immigrant, is going to be okay.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

That’s the preliminary report. It sounds awful, and if true it is awful. But I think the glee of some folks e-mailing me the story is both repugnant and fairly unfounded.

This is almost certainly an isolated incident, in the sense that Michael Enright was almost surely acting alone. Indeed, if he was a lone psycho, that would mean that by any measure this is far more of an “isolated incident” than any of the recent Islamic terrorist attacks the Obama administration and the press insisted were isolated incidents. By the Left’s own logic, there is, if anything, far less reason to say this attack (if the early reports are accurate) reflects American “Islamophobia” than there was to say that the Ft. Hood shooter or the attempted Christmas and Times Square bombers represented the worldwide Muslim community.

I could say a lot more, but let’s wait for the facts. (Recall, for instance, that when a census worker was found dead, much of the lefty blogosphere’s immediate reaction was to pin responsibility on conservatives, Fox et al. It turned out the man wasn’t lynched by “southern terrorists.” He committed suicide.)

Alex Pareene at Salon:

Ahmed H. Sharif, the driver slashed by Enright, has released a statement via the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Sharif, who says he feels “hopeless and insecure,” says Enright was friendly and chatty until suddenly going silent and then cursing and screaming.The full release:

Ahmed H. Sharif, 43, a yellow taxi cab driver slashed across the neck, face and shoulders by a passenger during an anti-Muslim hate crime will stand with fellow New York Taxi Workers Alliance members, and community, immigrant and Muslim organizations to call for an end to the bigotry and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the debate around the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center, referred to as the Ground Zero Mosque. “I feel very sad. I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before,” said Mr. Sharif. “Right now, the public sentiment is very serious (because of the Ground Zero Mosque debate.) All drivers should be more careful.”

On Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 Mr. Sharif picked up the perpetrator at 24th Street and Second Avenue, his first fare for the shift, and headed toward Times Square. The man, 21, started out friendly, asking Mr. Sharif about where he was from, how long he had been in America, if he was Muslim and if he was observing fast during Ramadan. He then first became silent for a few minutes and then suddenly started cursing and screaming. There, at about 6:15pm at Third Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, he yelled, “Assalamu Alaikum. Consider this a checkpoint,” and then slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck. As Mr. Sharif went to knock the knife out, the perpetrator, continuing to scream loudly, cut the taxi driver in the face (from nose to upper lip), arm and hand.

“While a minority of has-been politicians spew ignorance and fear, it’s the working person on the street who has to face the consequences,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. “This kind of bigotry only breeds more violence and makes taxi drivers all the more vulnerable on the streets where there are no bully pulpits or podiums to hide behind.” The US Department of Labor reports taxi drivers to be thirty times more likely to be killed on the job than other workers.

The 13,000-member NYTWA called on the District Attorney to be vigilant in its prosecution of the attempted murder and hate crime and urged the Governor to sign the Taxi Driver Protection Act, passed by the state legislature on June 26th, 2010, increasing penalties on crimes against taxi drivers and requiring a sign in all taxis, “WARNING: Assaulting a Taxi Driver is Punishable by Up to Twenty-Five Years in Prison.” “Maybe if the warning sign was there, this kind of stranger who comes to us with hatred would have to think twice,” said Anwar Hossain. “At least we could feel safer and not alone. No matter what political issue is going on, at least we could be treated as equal Americans and feel protected.”

UPDATE: Josh Duboff at New York Magazine

Adrian Chen at Gawker

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Those Burgers Obama And Medvedev Were Chomping Down On? Made Of Moose And Squirrel

David Knowles at Politics Daily:

After an FBI investigation spanning several years, ten people were taken into custody on Sunday across the northeastern United States and have been charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.

According to the D.O.J., eight of the accused were involved in what it termed as “long-term, deep-cover assignments” for the Russian government. Two of the defendants were arrested for participating in the covert Russian operation. Nine of those picked up were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The defendants, some of whom may go by and assumed alias, include: “Richard Murphy” and “Cynthia Murphy” of Montclair, N.J., Vicky Plaez and “Juan Lazaro” of Yonkers, N.Y. Anna Chapman of New York City, “Michael Zottoli,” “Patricia Mills,” and Mikhail Smenko of Arlington, Va., and “Tracey Lee Ann Foley” and “Donald Howard Heathfield” of Boston, Ma.

“Christopher R. Mestos” remains at large, the D.O.J. said.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

This on the heels of President Obama’s happy-go-lucky meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in D.C.

[…]

Five years for conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government? What’s going on here — Mr. McCarthy?

The Jawa Report:

The details are still a little fuzzy. It’s not clear if these are Americans who were recruited by the Russians, or if these were Russians living in America, or a mixture of both.

The story seems to indicate that at least some of them were Russian. This may explain why all those hot Russian chicks willing to marry dumpy, balding, middle-aged American men. They’re all Russian spies!

As some of you know, I spent a year studying in Russia under the theory that the Cold War would be back, and when it does — job security, baby! Is it time for Rusty to break out the old resume?

Marc Ambinder:

When it comes to human intelligence, the Russian Federation has a leg up on the U.S. in terms of the vestiges of the Cold War great game. The arrest today of 10 Russians for spying is a case in point: none of them were diplomats or had official cover. All of them were what the old Soviet Union used to call “illegals” — regular folks living and doing regular jobs, but serving as cutouts and go-betweens for other case officers and agents.

The CIA still spies on Russia, but/and I’m not exactly revealing secrets here, most of them have some sort of official cover — usually, the more bland sounding title in the embassy, the better.

Russian counterintelligence services have known this for decades. And for decades, the CIA has made efforts to field its version of illegals — NOCs — spies operating under “non official cover,” but fewer than one in ten of its case officers are NOCs, according to current and former officials. This makes the job of a case officer difficult. It’s even more difficult to establish a NOC — a cover story must be provided — a “legend” — that is trackable and verifiable. These days, it’s easy to Google someone and discover whether they are who they say they are, so if a Mr. Leonard Panerta were to become a teacher in Moscow, the Russian FSB, which does counteintelligence, can check pretty quickly.
What type of information is valuable to Russia these days? It’s no longer nuclear weapons information, really, or war plans: it’s proprietary information, trade secrets, technical specifications of satellite and ballistic missile technology…also political intelligence and economic intelligence. The FBI still has squads of counterintelligence (CI) agents that follow Russian embassy officials in Washington, but it does much less CI work than it did before the age of terrorism. The US has much better signals intelligence capabilities than the Russians, but Russia also quietly outsources some of its spying to other countries, including countries that are ostensibly friendly to the U.S.

Noah Shachtman at Dangerroom at Wired:

Moscow communicated with a ring of alleged spies in America by encoding instructions in otherwise innocent-looking images on public websites. It’s a process called steganography. And it’s one of a slew of high-tech and time-tested methods that the deep-cover agents and their Russian handlers used to pass information — from private Wi-Fi networks to buried paper bags.

Steganography is simultaneously one of the oldest methods for secret communications, and one of the more advanced. The process dates back to the fifth century B.C., when the Greek tyrant Histiaeus shaved the head of one of his servants, tattooed a message on his head, and waited for his hair to grow back before sending the messenger out. When the courier arrived, his head was shaved and the missive was read, giving information about upcoming Persian attacks. Later on, secret inks were used on couriers’ backs. Morse code messages were woven into a sweater that was worn by a courier.

As information went digital, steganography changed. Messages could be hidden in the 1s and 0s of electronic files — pictures, audio, video, executables, whatever. The hidden communications could even be slowly dribbled into the torrent of IP traffic. Compression schemes — like JPEG for images or MP3 for audio — introduce errors into the files, making a message even easier to hide. New colors or tones can be subtly added or removed, to cover up for the changes. According to the FBI, the image above contains a hidden map of the Burlington, Vermont, airport.

Both before and after Sept. 11, there were rumors in the media that al-Qaida had begun hiding messages in digital porn. That speculation was never confirmed, as far as I can tell.

The accused Russian spy network started using steganography as early as 2005, according to the Justice Department’s criminal complaint against the conspirators, unsealed yesterday in Manhattan. In 2005, law enforcement agents raided the home of one of the alleged spies. There, they found a set of password-protected disks and a piece of paper, marked with “alt,” “control,” “e,” and a string of 27 characters. When they used that as a password, the G-Men found a program that allowed the spies “to encrypt data, and then clandestinely to embed the data in images on publicly available websites.”

The G-Men also found a hard drive. On it was an address book with website URLs, as well as the user’s web traffic history. “These addresses, in turn, had links to other websites,” the complaint notes. “Law-enforcement agents visited some of the referenced websites, and many others as well, and have downloaded images from them. These images appear wholly unremarkable to the naked eye. But these images (and others) have been analyzed using the Steganography Program. As a result of this analysis, some of the images have been revealed as containing readable text files.”

These messages were used to arrange meetings, cash drops, deliveries of laptops and further information exchanges. One of the steganographically hidden messages also directed the conspirators to use radiograms — a decades-old method to pass information, long discredited in spooky circles.

Jen Doll at Village Voice:

The FBI obtained the following decrypted message from Russia’s intelligence headquarters in Moscow:

Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels to the Moscow center.

CBS News reports that agents would have been highly trained in “foreign languages; agent-to-agent communications, including the use of brush-passes (covert hand-offs of secret information); short-wave radio operation and invisible writing; the use of codes and ciphers, including the use of encrypted Morse code messages; the creation and use of a cover profession; counter-surveillance measures” and more.

This is creepy, but we’re suddenly less afraid of spies because we knew they did all of that stuff already! Really, short-wave radio? Invisible writing? Morse Code? Guys, that went out with magic decoder rings and camera cigarette lighters. Come on, even China is onto the hacking game.

Still, maybe in some small way, it’s nice to hear that Russia still considers us worthy of being spied on. And it’s good to know the FBI is on this shit. Let’s not go getting all Cold War or anything.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

News accounts don’t make clear when Russia first placed these agents. But from today’s perspective we can say: what a waste! The Russians thought they needed spies with “ties in policymaking circles” to gain intelligence about American policy, or, best case, possibly even influence it in a direction adverse to American interests. Those were the good old days. In today’s America, our “policymaking circles” are as antipathetic to American interests as the Russians could possibly have hoped to make them through spycraft.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Hooray, the Cold War is back and awesome.

Daniel Drezner:

There are many things that confuse me in life — Manhattan parking rituals, the proliferation of rotaries in Massachusetts, the appeal of most reality television, and so forth.  I think I’m going to have to add the Russian spy ring to this list.

Less than a week after Russian President Dmitri Medevedev’s burger date with U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department has busted eight Russkies in an espionage ring so heinous, they’ve been charged with….  “conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government.”

Um…. so, in other words, the Russians are accused of some combination of illegal immigration and impersonating Jack Abramoff?

Seriously, this story is the most bizarre foreign policy/international relations episode I’ve seen since the Sandy-Berger-let’s-stuff–classified-documents-down-my-pants episode.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner and Megan McArdle at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Marc Ambinder

Benjamin Weiser, Colin Moynihan and Ellen Barry at NYT

UPDATE #3: Bruce Bartlett

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James Joyner Did The Joke Already: David Weigel To Be Replaced By David Petraeus

Betsy Rothstein at Fishbowl DC:

FishbowlDC has obtained e-mails written by WaPo‘s conservative-beat blogger Dave Weigel, that the scribe sent to JournoList, a listserv for liberal journalists. (Read up on JournoList with Yahoo! News’s Michael Calderone‘s 2009 story that he wrote for Politico).

Seems Weigel doesn’t like (and that would be putting it mildly) at least some of the conservatives he covers. Poor Drudge – Weigel wants him to light himself on fire.

Weigel’s Words:

•”This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”

•”Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

•”I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

•”It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.”

Weigel says he “happy to comment” to FishbowlDC but it seems he’s tied up on the phone. Will bring you his remarks as soon as he provides them.

David Weigel:

Below the fold are quotes from me e-mailing the list that day — quotes that I’m told a gossip Web site will post today. I apologize for much of what I wrote, and apologize to readers.

– “This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”

I apologize to Matt Drudge for this — I was incredibly frustrated with the amount of hate mail I was getting and lashed out. If he wants to link to this post with some headline accusing me of wishing death on him, I suppose he can do so. But I don’t wish that. I was tired, angry, and hyperbolic, and I’m sorry.

– “Follow-up to one hell of a day: Apparently, the Washington Examiner thought it would be fun to write up an item about my dancing at the wedding of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman. Said item included the name and job of my girlfriend, who was not even there — nor in DC at all.”

I stand by this — I was offended by the way that item was written. I do apologize for reacting like this against the entire Washington Examiner, as my gripe was with one reporter, and the person who gave them this item was apologizing to me.

– “I’d politely encourage everyone to think twice about rewarding the Examiner with any traffic or links for a while. I know the temptation is high to follow up hot hot Byron York scoops, but please resist it.”

I stand by that reaction but apologize for belittling Byron York.

– “It’s all very amusing to me. Two hundred screaming Ron Paul fanatics couldn’t get their man into the Fox News New Hampshire GOP debate, but Fox News is pumping around the clock to get Paultard Tea Party people on TV.”

I stand by this, although I apologize if people find the word “Paultard” offensive. It was a neologism coined during the 2008 campaign to describe fanatical supporters of Paul — I used it in this case to convey how Fox covered those supporters in 2008.

Jonathan Strong at Daily Caller:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh famously said he hoped President Obama would “fail” in January, 2009. Almost a year later, when Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, Washington Post reporter David Weigel had a wish of his own. “I hope he fails,” Weigel cracked to fellow liberal reporters on the “Journolist” email list-serv.

“Too soon?” he wondered.

Weigel was hired this spring by the Post to cover the conservative movement. Almost from the beginning there have been complaints that his coverage betrays a personal animus toward conservatives.  E-mails obtained by the Daily Caller suggest those complaints have merit.

“Honestly, it’s been tough to find fresh angles sometimes–how many times can I report that these [tea party] activists are joyfully signing up with the agenda of discredited right-winger X and discredited right-wing group Y?” Weigel lamented in one February email.

In other posts, Weigel describes conservatives as using the media to “violently, angrily divide America.” According to Weigel, their motives include “racism” and protecting “white privilege,” and for some of the top conservatives in D.C., a nihilistic thirst for power.

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked,  “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”

In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

After making a number of disparaging comments about elements of the Right — including Ron Paul supporters, gay marriage opponents, and fellow blogger Matt Drudge — on a private listserv called “Journolist,” Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel has reportedly resigned this morning.

UPDATE: Early word is that Weigel will be heading to the Huffington Post.

UPDATE II: The HuffPo talk now seems premature. Weigel was seen at the blog’s DC offices today, but it was apparently a social call.

Also, Daily Caller has a bunch of new e-mails from Weigel, disparaging everybody from Rush Limbaugh to Newt Gingrich. I hadn’t seen these yet because the DC‘s servers had been down for much of the morning.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The liberal blogger Dave Weigel, who was hired by The Post to cover the conservative movement, has resigned, after advising Matt Drudge on a semi-public forum for leftish commentators to set himself on fire. Put aside the controversy over whether the Post, which was advised by its star blogger, Ezra Klein (who once advised parties unknown, via his Twitter account, to “fuck tim russert. fuck him with a spiky acid-tipped dick”) that Weigel would do an excellent and balanced job of reporting on conservatives, even understood that it was hiring a liberal, and not a conservative (Ben Smith has more on this aspect of the controversy), the issue in the newsroom today is, How did the Post come to this?

“How could we destroy our standards by hiring a guy stupid enough to write about people that way in a public forum?” one of my friends at the Post asked me when we spoke earlier today. “I’m not suggesting that many people on the paper don’t lean left, but there’s leaning left, and then there’s behaving like an idiot.”

I gave my friend the answer he already knew: The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training. This little episode today is proof of this. But it is also proof that some people at the Post (where I worked, briefly, 20 years ago) still know the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, and that maybe this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic responds to Goldberg:

Mr. Goldberg and I are in agreement that Mr. Weigel showed poor judgment in emails he sent to a listserv for liberal Washington DC journalists. The indiscretion is something that most journalists I know would guard against, and I also found objectionable his suggestion that links should be withheld from The Washington Examiner as retaliation for a mean-spirited item written by one of its gossip columnists. Links ought to be afforded on the basis of merit, full stop.

But the main “stupidity” on display here is that Mr. Weigel trusted the members of an avowedly private forum to keep his rants off-the-record, as advertised. In others words, he trusted his colleagues too much, and that isn’t a flaw that should disqualify someone from being a reporter, nor should the fact that they have strong, occasionally intemperate opinions, as do we all.

Do we really want to establish a standard whereby the worthiness of a journalist is measured by whether or not he has controversial opinions? Or how adept he is at concealing those opinions?

Let me put this another way. There is no opinion Jeffrey Goldberg could offer on an e-mail listserv that would change my high opinion of the magazine stories he has produced over many years. His work is the only standard by which I judge him, and so long as he writes at the level to which I am accustom, I’ll read him regardless. Obviously that isn’t the standard that high profile media corporations use when hiring reporters and writers, and Mr. Goldberg and I probably both feel a responsibility to our various employers to maintain some hard to define level of discretion when writing for public or even semi-private consumption.

I’ll defend to death, however, the proposition that the work of a journalist should be the only standard by which he is measured. Mr. Weigel’s work is superb: he breaks news, his foremost loyalty is to the facts, and he reliably treats fairly even folks with whom he very much disagrees. The conservatives he covers are the biggest losers here. As Ben Boychuck wrote on Twitter, “I find you insufferable, but indispensable. Sorry you resigned. I’ll read you wherever you land, you magnificent bastard.” That should be the reaction of someone who finds what Mr. Weigel wrote to be distasteful.

Let’s examine the implications of the standard that The Washington Post is actually employing here, and that most newspaper companies would also employ.

— In the excerpt above, Mr. Goldberg quotes an anonymous Washington Post staffer who, it should be noted, spoke disparagingly of his or her own newspaper in a conversation with a journalist from a competing media company. This source disparaged Dave Weigel, The Post, and the people responsible for hiring him, anonymously. In other words, this source’s very actions imply that he or she knows The Washington Post would look unfavorably on the public airing of this opinion, but decided that lack of discretion isn’t the problem so much as being stupid enough to get caught. Do journalists really want to help establish a standard whereby “stupidity” equals transparency?

— Firing Dave Weigel incentivizes more digging into the personal opinions of journalists, and validates the idea that they should be judged on the basis of those opinions, rather than the content of their work. What’s next? E-mails sent to a few people and leaked? Opinions offered at a bar over beers and surreptitiously recorded? Can I reiterate how glad I am to have moved away from Washington DC? (You should hear what I say about De Beers in private!)

— Mr. Goldberg suggests that this episode might “lead to the re-imposition of some level of standards” at The Washington Post, suggesting that the newspaper’s problem is that it employs people like Ezra Klein and Dave Weigel, who’ve exercised poor judgment in writing intended for a private audience. I submit that seeing these two staffers — who are intellectually honest and talented, whatever their flaws — as the problem at The Post is to miss the Mark Theissen for the trees.

Oops, Freudian slip. What I mean to say is that The Washington Post publishes many talented writers at the tops of their games — Gene Weingarten, I’d give half of what I own if I could clone you — but its most egregious flaw is confusing what actually consists of inexcusably poor judgment. To be more specific, by firing Dave Weigel, and continuing to employ columnists like Marc Thiessen, the Post is saying that it is inexcusably poor judgment to utter honestly held, intemperate opinions if they wind up being made public, but it is perfectly acceptable to write an intellectually dishonest, error-filled book on the subject of your main expertise, and to publish columns of the same quality.

Mr. Goldberg and I agree that Dave Weigel showed poor judgment, but by holding him up as the poster child for declining standards at The Washington Post, as opposed to other more deserving targets, the inescapable message is that the quality of a journalist’s actual work for publication matters less than the public image he is able to project. As far as I know, Mr. Thiessen has never said anything intemperate on a semi-private listserv. Apparently that is what’s required if he’s to resign his column — that’s the consequence of a weird standard whereby firings at a newspaper are utterly unconnected to single word actually published in its pages.

More Goldberg:

A couple of people I know and respect have told me that my criticism of Dave Weigel is misplaced; that he tries harder than I thought to be a fair reporter; that he makes mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes. And they’ve provided me with examples of his good reporting. So maybe I’ve made a mistake myself by blogging too fast and too thoughtlessly on this issue. On the other hand, I was repulsed — really repulsed — by his invitation to Matt Drudge to kill himself. I despise violent keyboard-cowboyism, and not only because I’ve received various invitations over the years to kill myself, or let myself be killed, because I’m a supporter of Israel, or because I support the Kurds in their struggle against Saddam, or because I supported the invasion of Iraq (mainly because I’m a supporter of Israel, actually).In any case, I wanted to say this now, and with any luck I’ll return to this subject later.

Ross Douthat:

Set aside the fact that Weigel — who’s actually a left-tilting libertarian rather than a liberal partisan — really is a good reporter, good enough and fair enough to have a number of conservative bloggers rallying to his defense, or at least speaking well of his reporting. The more important point is that no journalistic standard was violated by firing off intemperate e-mails to what’s supposed to be a private e-mail list. Maybe Weigel should have known better than to trust the people on JournoList, and I can certainly understand why once the e-mails were leaked, his ability to cover the conservative movement would be compromised, and a parting of the ways with The Post might seem necessary. But if hitting “send” on pungent e-mails that you assume will be kept private is a breach of journalistic ethics, then there isn’t an ethical journalist in the English-speaking world.  The real story here isn’t Weigel’s public embarrassment — it’s the shame of FishbowlDC for publishing private correspondence, and the disgrace of JournoList for harboring at least one would-be career wrecker. The only decent response is to disband the email list — and to his credit, its founder is doing exactly that.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Somebody on Journo-List didn’t like Dave Weigel and decided to publish his most furious and incendiary remarks that he thought — unwisely — that he was expressing in confidence. (At least I hope these were his most furious and incendiary remarks; what could top these? “I’m going to deafen David Brooks with a vuvuzela”?) So what else is on there that, if revealed, could make life difficult for Ezra Klein or Jeffrey Toobin or Paul Krugman or Ben Smith or Mike Allen? Or is the idea that as long as they stay in line, they’ll never have some remark they regret publicized to the world? Did Journo-List evolve into a massive blackmail scheme that ensures no one inside the club will ever speak ill of another member?

Liz Mair

Bruce Bartlett:

Apparently, Dave Weigel has been forced out over some utterly trivial e-mail rants that were published by some shameless idiot. Speculation is that the Post didn’t want a thinking conservative who cared more about facts than the party line, but would rather have some whack-job Glenn Beck wannabe representing the conservative position on the Post web site. I am canceling have canceled my subscription to the Post.

Ezra Klein:

I began Journolist in February of 2007. It was an idea born from disagreement. Weeks, or maybe months, earlier, I had criticized Time’s Joe Klein over some comments he made about the Iraq War. He e-mailed a long and searching reply, and the subsequent conversation was educational for us both. Taking the conversation out of the public eye made us less defensive, less interested in scoring points. I learned about his position, and why he held it, in ways that I wouldn’t have if our argument had remained in front of an audience.

The experience crystallized an idea I’d been kicking around for some time. I was on all sorts of e-mail lists, but none that quite got at the daily work of my job: Following policy and political trends in both the expert community and the media. But I always knew how much I was missing. There were only so many phone calls I could make in a day. There were only so many times when I knew the right question to ask. By not thinking of the right person to interview, or not asking the right question when I got them on the phone, or not intuiting that an economist would have a terrific take on the election, I was leaving insights on the table.

That was the theory behind Journolist: An insulated space where the lure of a smart, ongoing conversation would encourage journalists, policy experts and assorted other observers to share their insights with one another. The eventual irony of the list was that it came to be viewed as a secretive conspiracy, when in fact it was always a fractious and freewheeling conversation meant to open the closed relationship between a reporter and his source to a wider audience.

At the beginning, I set two rules for the membership. The first was the easy one: No one who worked for the government in any capacity could join. The second was the hard one: The membership would range from nonpartisan to liberal, center to left. I didn’t like that rule, but I thought it necessary: There would be no free conversation in a forum where people had clear incentives to embarrass each other. A bipartisan list would be a more formal debating society. Plus, as Liz Mair notes, there were plenty of conservative list servs, and I knew of military list servs, and health-care policy list servs, and feminist list servs. Most of these projects limited membership to facilitate a particular sort of conversation. It didn’t strike me as a big deal to follow their example.

But over the years, Journolist grew, and as it grew, its relative exclusivity became more infamous, and its conversations became porous. The leaks never bothered me, though. What I didn’t expect was that a member of the list, or someone given access by a member of the list, would trawl through the archives to assemble a dossier of quotes from one particular member and then release them to an interested media outlet to embarrass him. But that’s what happened to David Weigel. Private e-mails were twisted into a public story.

[…]

It was ironic, in a way, that it would be the Daily Caller that published e-mails from Journolist. A few weeks ago, its editor, Tucker Carlson, asked if he could join the list. After asking other members, I said no, that the rules had worked so far to protect people, and the members weren’t comfortable changing them. He tried to change my mind, and I offered, instead, to partner with Carlson to start a bipartisan list serv. That didn’t interest him.

In any case, Journolist is done now. I’ll delete the group soon after this post goes live. That’s not because Journolist was a bad idea, or anyone on it did anything wrong. It was a wonderful, chaotic, educational discussion. I’m proud of having started it, grateful to have participated in it, and I have no doubt that someone else will re-form it, with many of the same members, and keep it going. Hopefully, it will lose some of its mystique in the process, and be understood more for what it is: One of many e-mail lists where people talk about things they’re interested in. But insofar as the current version of Journolist has seen its archives become a weapon, and insofar as people’s careers are now at stake, it has to die.

As for Dave, I’m heartbroken that he resigned from The Post. Dave is an extraordinary reporter, and a dear friend. When this is done, there will be a different name on his paychecks, but he will still be an extraordinary reporter, and a dear friend.

James Joyner:

It’s a shame that Dave, who most agree is a rising star, had to pay such a high price for some indiscreet emails, especially since a fellow journalist violated his confidentiality.   One suspects, and I certainly hope, that he’ll land on his feet soon.  My guess is that Reason or the Washington Independent, both of which are much more openly ideological publications than WaPo, will happily take him back.

You know who would be a good replacement for him at the Right Now blog?  David Petraeus.

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez at Megan McArdle’s place

Philip Klein at The American Spectator

Tyler Cowen

James Wolcott

Foster Kamer at The Village Voice

Weigel himself at Big Government

Greg Sargent responds to Goldberg

Goldberg responds to Sargent

Matt Welch at Reason

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

UPDATE #2: Greg Marx at Columbia Journalism Review

Andy Barr at Politico

UPDATE #3: David Carr at NYT

Matthew Yglesias

Digby

UPDATE #4: Weigel in Esquire

Charles Johnson at LGF

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