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49 posts from June 2008

June 30, 2008

Fake federal agent fought phony drug war in Missouri

A mystery man came to Gerald, Missouri. Said he was sent from Washington, DC to fight our town's meth plague. Wouldn't take any money.  "Sargent Bill" said he didn't need a warrant to search people's houses because he worked for the federal government. It seemed almost too good to be true. Maybe we should'a known:

GERALD, Mo. — Like so many rural communities in the country’s middle, this tiny town had wrestled for years with the woes of methamphetamine. Then, several months ago, a federal agent showed up.

Busts began. Houses were ransacked. People, in handcuffs on their front lawns, named names. To some, like Mayor Otis Schulte, who considers the county around Gerald, population 1,171, “a meth capital of the United States,” the drug scourge seemed to be fading at last.

Those whose homes were searched, though, grumbled about a peculiar change in what they understood, from television mainly, to be the law.

They said the agent, a man some had come to know as “Sergeant Bill,” boasted that he did not need search warrants to enter their homes because he worked for the federal government.

But after a reporter for the local weekly newspaper made a few calls about that claim, Gerald’s anti-drug campaign abruptly unraveled after less than five months. Sergeant Bill, it turned out, was no federal agent, but Bill A. Jakob, an unemployed former trucking company owner, a former security guard, a former wedding-performing minister, a former small-town cop from 23 miles down the road.

The strange adventures of Sergeant Bill have led to the firing of three of the town’s five police officers, left the outcome of a string of drug arrests in doubt, prompted multimillion-dollar federal civil rights lawsuits by at least 17 plaintiffs and stirred up a political battle, including a petition seeking the impeachment of Mr. Schulte, over who is to blame for the mess.
[NYT]

Congratulations to reporter Linda Trest of The Gasconade County Republican for breaking the story.

States designate police, firefighters, and EMTs as "terrorism liason officers"

Federal tax dollars are going to coopt public servants to spy on unpromising photographers and videographers:

Colorado is one among of handful of states where hundreds of firefighters, paramedics, police, and even corporate employees are being trained to hunt down and report a broadly defined range of “suspicious activities.” They’re called Terrorism Liaison Officers. The federally supported initiative trains them to look out for “observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence-gathering or pre-operational planning related to terrorism.”

The federally supported initiative trains them to look out for “observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence-gathering or pre-operational planning related to terrorism.” The list of suspicious behaviors includes taking photographs or videos of no apparent aesthetic value; making measurements, drawings, or taking notes; and conversing in code.
[Democracy Now!]

Retiring WaPo editor claims he stopped having private opinions about issues

Romenesko has this tidbit from a web chat with retiring Washington Post editor, Leonard Downie Jr.:

Arlington, Va.: You are known for being so objective that you don't vote. Now that you are retiring, will register and vote?

Leonard Downie Jr.: I'll have to think about that since I didn't just stop voting, I stopped having even private opinions about politicians or issues so that I would have a completely open mind in supervising our coverage. It may be hard to change.

Falsehood, self-delusion, or terrifying statement of fact? In your private opinion...

Update: A personal reminiscence from a longtime reader who asks to remain anonymous.

I actually know Len Downie a little. He was the father of a classmate of mine growing up, and even before he took over as Top Cheese at WaPo, he had this whole objective TO THE EXTREME thing going on.

Two things that have stayed with me since I was a kid and he came to visit our classes:

(1)  When he came and spoke in front of our class he would tell us that he didn't vote because he wanted to maintain his objectivity (as if the activity of voting, rather than the thought behind it, would compromise it).  Obviously, being in 6th, 7th and 8th grade, I didn't really get the ludicrousness of it.  I will say, however, that he expressed this opinion very sincerely.  He is as deceived as he is deceiving.

(2) I do remember him talking about objectivity, and then talking about taking things the Pentagon had said during Iraq War I at face value, even though he was pretty sure they were being dishonest because there was a war on. He said it with pride (this was in the couple of years afterward the war when America being totally Awesome and Righteous was still in vogue even at the hippie school I went to).  I remember being struck by that even then, that I knew I couldn't trust the media in war time if they felt that knowingly deceiving themselves in a time of war was a virtue.

Anyway... so that's that.

AT&T site jokes about warrantless wiretapping

"Ms. Suspicious Has Nothing to Hide. Well, she has a little to hide, but her love of online billing isn't one of them. [sic]. She and the other members of the Online Liberation Movement (tm) have made online billing work for them..." Via BoingBoing.

June 29, 2008

Pride

Pride

So true.

I wish I had original photos to share, but given the torrential rain punctuating the heat wave, I had second thoughts about taking the camera outdoors, or myself for that matter. Justifiably so, as it turned out.

Happy Pride 2008, everyone!

HT: Jill.

June 28, 2008

Rolling back the Astroturf: P.U.M.A. founded by McCain supporter

Amanda delves into the murky world of self-proclaimed Clinton supporters for McCain. A lot of Democrats suspect that the Republicans are trying to capitalize on disenchanted Hillary supporters.

She discovers that the McCain switch group known as P.U.M.A. (People United Means Action) was founded by one Darragh C. Murphy of Carlisle, MA, who has never given a dime to a Democratic candidate in a federal election, but who gave $500.00 to McCain in 2000.

Murphy was recently featured on FOX News talking about her PAC.

High School "pregnancy pact" is an urban myth

It should come as no great surprise that Kathleen Kingsbury's TIME Magazine story about a "pregnancy pact" at a Massachusetts high school is falling apart under cursory scrutiny. Allegedly, seven or eight students resolved to get themselves pregnant and raise their babies together.

The piece attracted worldwide attention, likely because it confirmed society's worst fears about wanton, irresponsible, poor girls conspiring to reproduce. The story probably also stoked reader nostalgia for the good old days when pregnant teenagers were summarily banished:

The high school has done perhaps too good a job of embracing young mothers. Sex-ed classes end freshman year at Gloucester, where teen parents are encouraged to take their children to a free on-site day-care center. Strollers mingle seamlessly in school hallways among cheerleaders and junior ROTC. "We're proud to help the mothers stay in school," says Sue Todd, CEO of Pathways for Children, which runs the day-care center. [TIME]

Kingsbury heard about the alleged pact from a school principal during an interview about a recent spike in teen pregnancies at the school. He became Kingsbury's sole source for the pact story.

At the time, I thought it was suspicious that Kingsbury couldn't get a single participant in the pact to confirm that the collusion occurred. According to her story, the girls and their families "declined to be interviewed." I have to wonder how hard Kingsbury tried to confirm the principal's allegations. Did she try to track down the fathers of these babies, or anyone else who might have direct knowledge of the pact, if one existed? Or did she just take "no comment" for answer? I'm disappointed that TIME chose to air such an inflammatory rumor without corroboration.

The principal claimed that the spike was due to seven or eight girls who decided to get pregnant on purpose and raise their babies together. The sensational tale made headlines worldwide. Like all good stories, this one improved in the re-telling. MSNBC reported that there were seventeen conspirators in the group, up from seven or eight in the principal's original claim.   

Alarmed, the mayor of the town pressed the principal for details. According to the mayor, the principal's memory was foggy when he was pressed for details in a meeting with herself and the superintendant. He couldn't remember how he heard about the pact.

Now, the principal has issued a statement challenging the mayor's claims about his shaky memory.

Time published the assertion without further evidence. On Monday, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said that an inquiry had turned up no evidence of a pact, and she claimed that Mr. Sullivan “was foggy in his memory of how he heard this information.” And a local newspaper reporter covering the story closely said “the idea of the pact is not something we had reported and not something we have found.”

In his latest comments, Mr. Sullivan aimed “to put to rest the notion” that he had difficulty recalling his underlying evidence:

My only direct source of information about the intentional pregnancies at the high school was the former nurse practitioner at the Health Center. My other sources are verbal staff reports and student/staff chatter, all of which I have found to be very reliable in my experience as a principal and all of which I filter myself for accuracy and keep confidential.

Kim Daly, the former head nurse practitioner who was his direct source, told The New York Times that she could not back up the “pact” claim. “It was complete news to me,” said Ms. Daly. “I have never heard of it, ever.” [The Lede]

Subsequently, one of the pregnant students told Good Morning American that was no pact to get pregnant. The 17-year-old mother to be said that a bunch of girls who were already expecting decided that they would help each other raise their babies while staying in school. Somehow, the rumor mill twisted this benign self-help arrangement into a bizarre reproductive conspiracy.

The pregnancy pact story had the ring of an urban legend from the very beginning. The reporter and the public were way too eager to believe that wanton females besotted by Juno were getting pregnant to take advantage of their high school's inclusive policies for teen moms. This wasn't journalism, it was a bad morality play. Now the shoddy story is finally unraveling. Unfortunately, the rumor has spread so widely that it will take a lot of debunking to strip the fable of its aura of truthiness.

June 27, 2008

Army doesn't check whether contractors are on arms trafficking watch list

Further revelations from the AEY investigation: The army doesn't typically check whether major contractors are on the State Department's arms trafficking watch list, and the State Department may not check it's own list, either.

I have to wonder whether the treatment that AEY received was representative of how contractors are treated in general. It seems equally likely that there was some concerted effort to look the other way in the case of Efraim Diveroli and his sketchy arms dealing outfit.

June 26, 2008

Child abuse prevention bill passes House

Good news: The House passes legislation to stop child abuse at boot camps and other "therapeutic" facilities. Maia Szalavitz has the details at HuffPo.

Hip hop activists arrested in NYC for questioning NYPD tactics

Another under-reported incident involving alleged NYPD retaliation against non-violent concerned citizens, from Vivir Latino:

Last Thursday, independent, radical, revolutionary, activist Hip Hoppers Rodstarz and G1, two brothers known musically and in the movement as Rebel Diaz [along with MC/vocalist La Tere], were walking in the Bronx, NYC when they witnessed an all too common occurrence. Police officers from the 41st Precinct were in the middle of a sting against street vendors, aggressively confiscating the fruit and vegetables of a street vendor. What happened next was a mix of the sadly uncommon and the everyday threat that is faced in many of our communities. Rodstarz and G1 didn’t walk by quickly or quietly, watching their extended community being attacked. They approached the officers to ask why the vendor was being treated in that manner and asked for their badge numbers. The police, who aren’t exactly keen on the idea of being monitored by the very same community they allegedly serve, turned their aggressions on the duo. After beating them and arresting them in front of over a dozen witnesses, they were taken to the 41st Precinct.

Within hours, over 75 friends, community members and activists gathered outside the precinct (1035 Longwood Avenue at Southern Blvd.) to sing, chant, drum and march for over 4 hours, demanding that all charges be dropped and that Rodstarz and G1 be immediately released.

The following morning more than 25 people gathered at the Bronx County Criminal Court for their arraignment. The men are charged with two misdemeanors: obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, and are scheduled for court on September 3rd, 2008.

Check out video of the arrests and the subsequent protests.

[HT: Jack.]