Russia Had Boston Terror Suspect Under Surveillance During Mysterious Trip
Posted April 30, 2013 at 4:40 pm by Jason Howerton
MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) — Russian agents placed the elder Boston bombing suspect under surveillance during a six-month visit to southern Russia last year, then scrambled to find him when he suddenly disappeared after police killed a Canadian jihadist, a security official told The Associated Press.
U.S. law enforcement officials have been trying to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was indoctrinated or trained by militants during his visit to Dagestan, a Caspian Sea province that has become the center of a simmering Islamic insurgency.
The security official with the Anti-Extremism Center, a federal agency under Russia’s Interior Ministry, confirmed the Russians shared their concerns. He told the AP that Russian agents were watching Tsarnaev, and that they searched for him when he disappeared two days after the July 2012 death of the Canadian man, who had joined the Islamic insurgency in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Security officials suspected ties between Tsarnaev and the Canadian – an ethnic Russian named William Plotnikov – according to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which is known for its independence and investigative reporting and cited an unnamed official with the Anti-Extremism Center, which tracks militants. The newspaper said the men had social networking ties that brought Tsarnaev to the attention of Russian security services for the first time in late 2010.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if the men had met. Both were amateur boxers of roughly the same age whose families had moved from Russia to North America when they were teenagers. In recent years, both had turned to Islam and expressed radical beliefs. And both had traveled to Dagestan, a republic of some 3 million people.
The AP could not independently confirm whether the two men had communicated on social networks or crossed paths either in Dagestan or in Toronto, where Plotnikov had lived with his parents and where Tsarnaev had an aunt.
After Plotnikov was killed, Tsarnaev left suddenly for the U.S., not waiting to pick up his new Russian passport – ostensibly one of his main reasons for coming to Russia. The official said his sudden departure was considered suspicious.
Plotnikov’s father told the Canadian network CBCNews on Monday that his son had broken off contact when he returned to Russia in 2010 and he had no way of knowing whether his son knew Tsarnaev.
In an August interview with the Canadian newspaper National Post, Vitaly Plotnikov said his son, who was 23 when he died, had converted to Islam in 2009 and quickly became radicalized. But he said he fully understood what his son was up to in Russia only when he received photographs and videos after his death.
In one photo, a smiling William Plotnikov is shown posing in the woods, an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder and a camouflage ammunition belt around his waist. In the videos, which the National Post reporter watched with the father, the younger Plotnikov talked openly of planning to kill in the name of Allah.
Plotnikov had been detained in Dagestan in December 2010 on suspicion of having ties to the militants and during his interrogation was forced to hand over a list of social networking friends from the United States and Canada who like him had once lived in Russia, Novaya Gazeta reported.
The newspaper said Tsarnaev’s name was on that list, bringing him for the first time to the attention of Russia’s secret services.
Novaya Gazeta, which is part-owned by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and wealthy businessman Alexander Lebedev, has regularly criticized the Kremlin. One of its best known reporters, Anna Politkovskaya, angered the Kremlin with her reporting from Chechnya, and her 2006 murder in a Moscow elevator was widely presumed to have been in connection with her journalistic work.
The Islamic insurgency in Dagestan grew out of the fierce fighting between Russian troops and separatists in neighboring Chechnya that raged in the 1990s. Attacks now are carried out almost daily in Dagestan against police and security forces, who respond with special operations of their own to wipe out the militants.
As recently as Sunday, two suspected militants were killed in a shootout after being cornered in a house in the Dagestani village of Chontaul, according to police spokeswoman Fatina Ubaidatova.
Plotnikov was among seven suspected militants killed on July 14 during a standoff with police in the Dagestani village of Utamysh, according to the official police record.
After Plotnikov’s death, Russian security agents lost track of Tsarnaev and went to see his father in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, who told them that his son had returned to the U.S., Novaya Gazeta said.
The agents did not believe the father, since Tsarnaev had left without picking up his new Russian passport, and they continued to search for him, the newspaper reported.
The Russians later determined that Tsarnaev had flown to Moscow on July 16 and to the United States the following day, the newspaper said. Tsarnaev arrived in New York on July 17.
Russian migration officials have said they were puzzled that Tsarnaev applied for the passport but left before it was ready.
His father, Anzhor Tsarnaev, said last week that his elder son stayed with him while waiting for the passport to be processed. He could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the Novaya Gazeta report.
The Tsarnaev family had lived briefly in Dagestan before moving to the United States a decade ago. Both parents returned to Dagestan last year.
The official with Russia’s Anti-Extremism Center said Tsarnaev was filmed attending a mosque in Makhachkala whose worshippers adhere to a more radical strain of Islam. The official would give no further details about what the Russian security services knew about Tsarnaev’s activities in Dagestan or about any possible connection to Plotnikov.
The AP was unable to determine whether the official was the same one who provided the information to Novaya Gazeta.
Plotnikov had settled in Utamysh, a small village about 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Makhachkala. It was not known whether he had spent any significant amount of time in Dagestan’s capital.
Novaya Gazeta said Tsarnaev was also seen in the company of Mahmud Nidal – a man who was both Palestinian and Kumyk, one of the dozens of ethnic groups living in Dagestan – and who was believed to have ties to Islamic militants in the southern Russian region.
Nidal was killed in May 2012 after refusing to give himself up to security forces that had surrounded a house in Makhachkala, according to official police records.
Shortly after Plotnikov identified Tsarnaev during his December 2010 interrogation, the Russian secret services, the FSB, studied Tsarnaev’s pages on social networking sites and asked the FBI for more information, the Russian newspaper said.
The FBI has acknowledged receiving the request. The U.S. agency said it opened an investigation, but when no evidence of terrorism was found and no further information from the Russians was forthcoming, the case was closed in June 2011.
Nightmare Material: Calif. Woman Almost Gets in Accident When She Felt a Snake Slithering Up Her Leg
Posted April 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm by Liz Klimas
Angie Guerrero in Santa Clarita almost got on an accident when she felt something slithering on her legs. But she managed to pull over, grabbed her dogs and fled the car.
The reptile was identified as a Kingsnake, which is nonvenomous. The species looks very similar to a coral snake, which is venomous.
It took authorities more than an hour to remove the snake from behind the woman’s dashboard.
Watch KCAL’s report:
Guerrero said she wants to be more careful from now on, but how would anyone really ever know that checking for snakes was important?
(H/T: AOL Autos)
Caught on Tape: Shotgun-Wielding Thug Finds Himself Staring Down the Barrel of His Own Gun After ‘Victim’ Fights Back
Posted April 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Jason Howerton
A New Orleans man decided to fight back against a shotgun-wielding attacker who attempted to rob him at around 5 a.m. Saturday morning. Instead of hoping for the best and following the criminal’s orders to give up his cash, the would-be victim yanked the shotgun from the robber’s hands and sent him running for his life.
The man was approached moments later by two black men, one of which was apparently the attacker, in a black four-door sedan, according to police. Hilariously, the driver of the car reportedly tried to negotiate with the man, saying “give me my gun back and I’ll give you your phone that you dropped.”
The man wasn’t about to accept that “deal.” An New Orleans Police Department spokesman told WWL.com that he instead used the shotgun to shatter the rear windshield of the vehicle. For the second time, the criminal fled from his “victim.” It was unclear whether the shotgun was loaded.
The entire ordeal was captured by a surveillance camera.
According to the YouTube video description written by NOPD, a similar incident occurred the night before involving two unidentified black males.
A similar incident occurred on Friday, April 26, 2013, at or about 12:30am in the 800 block of Touro Street, right around the corner from the aforementioned robbery. In that incident the victim was walking in the 800 block of Touro when he was approached by two unknown young black males. One of the subjects pointed a shotgun at the victim and demanded his property. The subjects then struck the victim three times. The victim fled the scene without relinquishing his property. The victim sustained minor injuries.
Anyone with information about this incident is urged to call Det. Michael Flores at (504)658-6707 or email him at MFlores@nola.gov and/or call CrimeStoppers at (504)822-1111.
(H/T: Yahoo! News)
‘Throw the Desk!’: Wild Vid Shows Violent Brawl Between Calif. Teacher and Middle School Girl
Posted April 30, 2013 at 3:44 pm by Erica Ritz
The Oakland Unified School District is getting extra administrators to help calm the riotous environment after video of a violent brawl between a middle school girl and a substitute teacher recently surfaced.
Captured on a cellphone sometime before winter break (the date is not specified), a parent gave the video to local CBS affiliate KPIX-TV last week.
It begins with the teacher attempting to dismiss the 8th grade girl from the class for presumed bad behavior.
“Get your butt out of here,” he says, following her to the door to the sounds of “Oooh!” from others in the class.
The two then briefly exit the door and the sounds of a scuffle emerge.
Soon the teacher reappears in the classroom, trying to quickly shut the door behind him to prevent the girl from coming back in. Something blocks it from closing, and when the teacher opens the door he raises his leg in a low kick to prevent her from coming back in.
He fails, and she starts throwing punches.
The teacher then grabs a desk as an improvised sword and shield combo, both blocking the girl’s fists and trying to push her out using its legs.
The two proceed to scream at each other, though very little of the dialogue is intelligible because of all the bleeps.
Watch the stunning video, below:
According to WPIX, this is far from the only fight at the 360-student school in East Oakland, called Alliance Academy. Jose Barajas, an eighth grader, told them there was recently a “riot.”
He described how he hid under a desk when “they destroyed the whole classroom.” He continued: “They broke the desk. They threw the computers on the floor.”
In this case, the substitute was not disciplined, but the student no longer goes to the school.
The recent $3 million federal School Improvement Grant the school received appears to have done little to improve the situation, and teachers and administrators are crying out for more help.
One teacher said she has a student in her class who (understandably) gets “crying scared” during the altercations.
“They shouldn’t have to worry about being safe,” Kashmir Hyder told WPIX. “You should never feel that at school.”
Bill Clinton: ‘You’re Way Better Off With a Shotgun Than an Assault Weapon…Trust Me’
Posted April 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm by Tiffany Gabbay
Speaking at an event at Georgetown University on Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton shared his views on guns in America, stating that if you live in a city and need protection for your home, there is by far no better weapon than a shotgun. “It’s not even close,” he said.
Clinton noted that while an “assault weapons” ban was passed on his watch as president, he paid for it in the 1994 congressional elections.
“The people who were against it said, ‘I’m going to kill you. I wouldn’t vote for you if you were the last candidate on earth,’” Clinton said.
The former president then explained what he sees as the differences in viewpoints between big city and suburban residents.
“If you live in a city and you think you need protection of your home, you’re way better off with a shotgun than an assault weapon,” he said. “Trust me. It’s not even close.”
AP Reporter Actually Calls Out State Dept. Official During Press Conference Over Vague Answers
Posted April 30, 2013 at 2:47 pm by Becket Adams
The Associated Press’ Matt Lee took State Department Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell to task Monday over the agency’s habit of giving vague and meaningless accounts of meetings between top foreign officials by State Department officials.
“Will you be able to offer us some details of what they talked about once the meeting is over?” Lee asked in reference to a meeting scheduled for later that day between the Secretary and Joint Special Representative Brahimi.
The scheduled meeting called for a discussion on “the conflict in Syria.”
“We’ll certainly endeavor to do so. Certainly, the topics are Syria, so – but we’ll endeavor to see what we can do about a readout,” Ventrell responded.
“That – well, that’s – the topic is Syria.”
“Yeah. Well, I was hoping for something a little bit more exact.”
“I know you are, Matt.”
“If you can drill down a little bit on the granularity. Maybe like: Assad future, situation on the ground – and I’m not trying to be facetious.”
“No, I know you’re not, Matt.”
“But I would prefer that it not be, ‘The Secretary and Mr. Brahimi met and spoke about issues of mutual concern.’”
“All right. We’ll endeavor to –”
“Because, frankly, I read enough of the New Light of Myanmar many years ago, and we don’t need those kinds of readouts anymore. So I’d also make the same plea for the Arab League meeting.”
“Okay. Let me clear, though –”
“If we could actually get some remnant of scrap of substance in what the readout –
“Let me be clear here, though, Matt. The purpose is to encourage him to continue in his good work, and so that’s really the message that Secretary wants.”
Well, Lee may not have gotten exactly what he was looking for, but you can’t say he didn’t try [at the 08:24 mark]:
If you’re surprised by Lee’s tone, you shouldn’t be. After all, this is not the first time that he has tried to wring an answer out of a State Department official.
For example, you may recall in November when Lee grilled State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland over the Obama administration’s silence on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan referring to Israel as “a terrorist state.”
Asking tough questions appears to be his M.O.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image screen grab. This post has been updated.
Did You Know Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer Signed a Gun Law on Monday?
Posted April 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm by Liz Klimas
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona cities and counties that hold community gun buyback events will have to sell the surrendered weapons instead of destroying them under a bill Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Monday.
The bill was championed by Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature who argued that municipalities were skirting a 2010 law that was tightened last year and requires police to sell seized weapons to federally licensed dealers. They argued that destroying property turned over to the government is a waste of taxpayer resources.
Democrats who argued against the bill said it usurps local control and goes against the wishes of people who turn over their unwanted weapons to keep them out of the hands of children or thieves.
Buybacks are popular among some police and elected officials who either pay cash or hand out gift cards in exchange for weapons. Tucson and other Arizona communities destroyed weapons from the events, arguing that because the guns were voluntarily surrendered, the laws concerning weapons seized by authorities didn’t apply.
House Bill 2455 prompted a furious debate in the state Senate, where Democrats accused Republicans of complaining about an overbearing federal government but then turning around and dictating policies to local governments.
Brewer’s office did not release any signing letter accompanying the announcement of more than 30 bill she signed Monday evening, but the Republican governor is a strong gun-rights supporter and had signed the 2010 and 2012 laws.
The governor’s office said it received nearly 2,000 letters, emails or phone calls about the bill, with only 25 opposed.
One of the letters in support was from the National Rifle Association, which argued that selling seized or forfeited guns “would maintain their value, and their sale to the public would help recover public funds.” The NRA letter said the bill doesn’t prevent a private group from holding an event and destroying the weapons.
“However, this measure would ensure that taxpayer resources are not utilized to pursue a political agenda of destroying firearms,” according to the letter, sent April 22 and signed by Brent Gardner with the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a Democrat who champions the buyback events and survived being shot in the buttocks at the end of a 1997 Board of Supervisors meeting, sent a letter to Brewer urging a veto.
The bill “would force the resale of guns that would otherwise never have been used for violence,” she wrote. “How many lives would be lost through the use of weapons our citizens hoped to be removed from the hands of criminals?”
A second bill signed by Brewer on Monday bars cities, towns and counties from collecting or maintaining any identifying information about a person who owns or sells a firearm.
- Wait Until You Hear the Clever Way Private Gun Buyers Invaded a Gun Buyback Program in Seattle
- St. Louis Pastor Announces His Own Gun Buyback…for Children’s Toy Weapons
- Hip Mogul’s NYC Gun Buyback: Give Us Your Guns and We’ll Give You …Beyonce Tickets
- Oops: Santa Fe Releases Names of Gun Buyback Participants After They Were Promised Anonymity
Half-Naked College Student Dresses Up as the Pope, Gives Out Condoms — And Now One Bishop Is Accusing Her of ‘Prejudice’ & ‘Bigotry’
Posted April 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm by Billy Hallowell
Catholic officials in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are discontented after an annual art school parade at Carnegie Mellon University included a female student who was dressed like the pope. But that isn’t the extent of her controversial actions.
The young woman was apparently also naked from the waist down, while handing out condoms to her peers. And, according to KDKA-TV, she reportedly shaved her pubic hair into the shape of a cross.
While the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is calling for the university to take action, some feel that faith leaders are overreacting. One student told the outlet that the student’s actions were rooted “in good fun” and that were were essentially harmless.
That said, Bishop David Zubik believes that the young woman crossed a line.
“I think we all know that when we’re growing up we do stupid things but to cross over the line in this instance shouldn’t happen with anybody,” the Catholic leader told KDKA-TV. “What I do want to have happen is for this person to learn an important lesson.”
KDKA-TV has more:
Zubik told the outlet that evidence of the girl’s antics was corroborated by photographs that were submitted to the diocese. And university spokesperson Ken Walters apparently confirmed the claims against the student in an interview with the Associated Press.
In the midst of controversy, Carnegie Mellon did release a statement, affirming that it is reviewing the incident and that the school will take action if “community standards or laws were violated.”
With some arguing that, despite being distasteful, the student’s actions are protected free speech, the bishop disagrees.
“If you’re going to argue from that perspective, that this is freedom of speech, God help us all,” said Zubik. “What I do want to have happen is that this person can learn an important lesson that prejudice, bigotry, there’s no place for it.”
The controversial display apparently unfolded during the 4th Annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby, a parade organized by Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts.
Other Must Reads:
- Clergy Were Reportedly Banned From the Deadly Boston Bombing Scene — Here Are the Details‘
- Gosnell Is Not Alone’: Counselor Tells Undercover ‘Mom’ What Happens When Babies Move After Late-Term Abortions
- Obama’s 5 Most Controversial Statements About Abortion and ‘Women’s Rights’ During His Planned Parenthood Speech
- Fox News’ Jesse Watters Stumps Marijuana Enthusiasts on Politics, Current Events at Colo. Rally
Woman Found What in Her Canned Veggie? ‘Little Legs All in the Green Beans’
Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:59 pm by Liz Klimas
Finding a little creepy crawly in a canned or frozen veggie isn’t unheard. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows a certain amount of insect fragments and rodent hairs — just to name a couple — in some food products. These “defects” though are often minuscule and unnoticeable.
Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — this was not the case for the canned veggie of choice in the Chubb household.
“We eat a lot of green beans. We do. We did,” Gloria Chubb of St. Joseph County, Indiana, said, according to WBND. “Nobody wants any more now.”
That’s because they found a toad in their grocery-store brand side dish set to accompany a traditional meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
“My son put some on his plate and said, ‘What is that?’ I thought maybe it was a piece of moldy bacon or something. Because they have bacon in them sometimes. I had it in my hand because I was trying to figure out what it was. And I took it out of there and it wasn’t moldy bacon. It was a toad with parts of his little legs all in the green beans, other than that he was fully intact,” Chubb said, according to WBND.
Afterward, Chubb said she was “sick, nauseated for two days” and noted that she doesn’t think “I’ll have green beans anytime soon.”
Watch this report on the incident from WZZM:
The frog (or toad, it’s unclear which amphibian it was) and the can in question were taken to the St. Joseph County Health Department for inspection, which will then transfer it to the Indiana State Department of Health.
What likely happened, according to St. Joseph County Health Department’s Rita Hooten is that the green beans were picked from the field, along with the toad, which ended up making its way through all the processing at a Wisconsin plant.
In a fast-moving processing plant, the amphibian was missed during inspections.
“I think they should come up with a better way of inspecting and canning vegetables,” Chubb said. “I mean anything can happen you know but a whole frog?”
The grocery store Meijer, where the green beans were purchased, said in a statement they “sincerely regret this customer’s experience, and we are in the process of investigating the incident.”
Featured image via Shutterstock.com.
Watch Tuesday’s BlazeCast Rewind: The Bad News About Baby Grabbing
Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm by Scott Baker
This broadcast will begin at 2pm ET.
To join the chat — there is a button on the top right of the player window or you can hover your cursor over the player window for options.
To ask a question — click the button at the bottom. We’ll be able to display your question or comment in the player window!
And as always you can leave other comments in the regular comment section below!
The Best Video of a Fuel Heist Gone Wrong You Will See All Day
Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm by Jonathon M. Seidl
We know you have a lot of choices when it comes to watching botched fuel heists every day, and so we want to assure you that the decision to watch this one is a good one. Another way to put it: If you watch one video of a botched fuel heist today, make it this one.
The below happened at a Caltex station in Mount Warren Park near Brisbane, Australlia, last week. In short, the couple was apparently trying to steal gas — and surveillance video captured it all.
It opens with a woman filling up her gas tank:
But quickly an attendant becomes suspicious (you pay for your gas after filling up at that station) and starts to loiter around the vehicle to take a closer look at the woman and her companion’s license plates:
With no warning, the woman’s companion hits the gas with the hose still attached, launching her into the air and sending gas spilling out of the now-detached hose:
Now here’s the video:
But the incredible story doesn’t end there. According to The Australian, the couple actually has thus far gotten away with the crime.
“Investigations are continuing and there’s no charges,” a police spokesman told the outlet.
And apparently it’s an epidemic. The police added that such dine-and-dash-like heists are common in the region.
“It does cost us a hell of a lot of money,” the gas station owner said.
But at least this one provided some laughs, too.
From Health Care to Benghazi: Here’s What President Obama Discussed During Today’s Presser
Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm by Erica Ritz
President Barack Obama held his first domestic press conference in two months on Tuesday, marking a rare occasion in which he took live questions from reporters.
In a breach of convention, rather than calling first on the Associated Press, the president gave the first question to Ed Henry of Fox News. In the past, the president has sometimes snubbed the organization, and a White House official has called it “not a news network.”
The president responded to questions on a wide range of topics during the conference. Here is a brief overview.
President Obama told reporters Tuesday that he is “not familiar with this notion that anybody has been blocked from testifying” on Benghazi.
“There are people in your own State Department saying they have been blocked from coming forward,” Fox News’ Ed Henry remarked, “that they survived the terror attack and they want to tell their story.”
At least four officials at the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency say they have been warned by unnamed Obama administration officials about testifying on the Benghazi terror attacks, and it was alleged yesterday that the State Department is preventing whistle-blowers from getting legal representation.
“Our job, with respect to Benghazi, has been to find out exactly what happened, to make sure that U.S. embassies – not just in the Middle East but around the world – are safe and secure, and to bring those who carried it out to justice,” Obama said. “But I’ll find out, exactly, what you’re referring to.”
Here’s the entire exchange:
“Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps,” Obama warned of the implementation of his health care plan.
The first draft for people to fill out was as mind-numbing as a tax form, but the administration unveiled simplified application forms on Tuesday for health insurance benefits coming next year under the federal health care overhaul.
It now consists of a five-page “short form” that single people can fill out, but the application form for families still runs to 12 pages.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Tuesday found that 4 in 10 are still unaware it’s the law of the land. Some think it’s been repealed by Congress, but in fact, it’s still on track.
“Despite all the hue and cry and sky-is-falling predictions about this stuff, if you’ve already got health insurance that part of Obamacare that affects you, it’s pretty much in place,” Obama said during the presser. “What is left to be implemented is those provisions to help the 10 to 15 percent of the public that is unlucky enough that they don’t have health insurance.”
President Barack Obama says he is open-minded about immigration legislation being fashioned in the House. But he says he won’t support it if it doesn’t meet his criteria, which includes a “pathway to citizenship.”
Obama is pushing Congress to reform the nation’s immigration system as one of his top legislative priorities.
The president says he is backing bipartisan legislation from the “Gang of Eight” that would secure purportedly the border and provide a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
He said the legislation, which was released earlier this month, meets his “basic criteria” and applauded their effort.
President Barack Obama says he’s going to try yet again to close down the prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The president says he’s asked a team of officials to review the issue and will take it back to Congress. He said Tuesday he’s not surprised there are problems at the facility, where 100 of the 166 inmates are on a hunger strike.
Obama ordered the detention center closed upon taking office during his first term, but even a Democrat-controlled Congress objected to releasing or relocating the prisoners (particularly if it was within the United States). Releases and transfers have since become rare, giving detainees little hope of ever being released.
Asked about Syria, the president said that while there is evidence that chemical weapons were used inside the country, “we don’t know when they were used, how they were used. We don’t know who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes” exactly what happened.
If it can be established that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, he added, “we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.”
Obama said the administration was using all its resources to determine the facts about a weapon that he has said would be a “game changer” for U.S. policy in the war.
“If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence … we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t marshal the international community in support what we do,” he said. “It’s important for us to do this in a prudent way.”
Here’s video of the president’s remarks:
President Barack Obama says a national security review following the Boston Marathon bombings will look at whether there is more the government can do to stop people within the United States who might become radicalized and plan terror attacks.
One of the dangers the U.S. faces now, Obama said, is people who might decide to attack because of “whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have.”
“What more can we do on that front that is looming on the horizon?” Obama said. “Is there more we can do to engage communities where there is the threat of self-radicalization?
Obama said that based on what he’s seen so far, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did what they were supposed to before the attack.
“This is hard stuff,” he remarked.
President Barack Obama says he will wait until he meets with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto later this week before judging Mexico’s moves to curtail broad access to U.S. security agencies in the battle against drug trafficking and organized crime
Obama, who will travel to Mexico City Thursday, said Nieto is “serious about reform.” He said Mexican security changes appear to have more to do with internal Mexican coordination than with how they deal with the United States.
The Mexican government said Monday all contact for U.S. law enforcement will now go through the federal Interior Ministry.
Obama said: “I’m not going to yet judge how this will alter the relationship between the United States and Mexico until I’ve heard directly from them what exactly they are trying to accomplish.”
NBA Center Jason Collins’ Sexuality:
President Barack Obama says he told NBA center Jason Collins that he “couldn’t be prouder of him” for coming out as gay while playing in a major sports league.
Speaking at the news conference Tuesday, Obama said Collins showed the progress the United States has made in recognizing that gays and lesbians deserve full equality. He said they deserve “not just tolerance but recognition that they’re fully a part of the American family.”
Obama thinks it’s “great” the player could hypothetically say: “I’m still seven feet tall and can bang with Shaq and, you know, deliver a hard foul…”
Collins has played for six teams in 12 seasons, including this past season with the Washington Wizards, and is now a free agent.
He made his announcement in an online article Monday, and Obama called him to express support. Obama said people should be judged on their character and performance, not their sexual orientation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Mysterious Jesus-Era Stone With Ancient Hebrew Text Sparks Major Debate Among Scholars
Posted April 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm by Billy Hallowell
JERUSALEM (TheBlaze/AP) – Interesting archeological finds are generally pretty fascinating. That’s why the so-called Gabriel Stone, like many religious artifacts before it, has captured so much attention. Discovered in Jordan 13 years ago, the tablet contains mysterious Hebrew writing — and has been a source of intriguing debate among scholars.
In addition to the odd writing, the stone features the archangel Gabriel. Jerusalem scholars continue to examine the message’s purported meaning, as the stone is at the center of a new exhibit in Jerusalem.
The so-called Gabriel Stone, a meter (three-foot)-tall tablet said to have been found on the banks of the Dead Sea, features 87 lines of an unknown prophetic text dated as early as the first century BC, at the time of the Second Jewish Temple.
Scholars see it as a portal into the religious ideas circulating in the Holy Land in the era when was Jesus was born. Its form is also unique — it is ink written on stone, not carved — and no other such religious text has been found in the region.
Curators at the Israel Museum, where the first exhibit dedicated to the stone is opening Wednesday, say it is the most important document found in the area since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“The Gabriel Stone is in a way a Dead Sea Scroll written on stone,” said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum. The writing dates to the same period, and uses the same tidy calligraphic Hebrew script, as some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of Hebrew Bible texts.
The Gabriel Stone made a splash in 2008 when Israeli Bible scholar Israel Knohl offered a daring theory that the stone’s faded writing would revolutionize the understanding of early Christianity, claiming it included a concept of messianic resurrection that predated Jesus. He based his theory on one hazy line, translating it as “in three days you shall live.”
His interpretation caused a storm in the world of Bible studies, with scholars convening at an international conference the following year to debate readings of the text, and a National Geographic documentary crew featuring his theory. An American team of experts using high resolution scanning technologies tried — but failed — to detect more of the faded writing.
Knohl, a professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, eventually scaled back from his original bombshell theory but the fierce scholarly debate he sparked continued to reverberate across the academic world, bringing international attention to the stone. Over the last few years it went on display alongside other Bible-era antiquities in Rome, Houston and Dallas.
Bible experts are still debating the writing’s meaning, largely because much of the ink has eroded in crucial spots in the passage and the tablet has two diagonal cracks the slice the text into three pieces. Museum curators say only 40 percent of the 87 lines are legible, many of those only barely. The interpretation of the text featured in the Israel Museum’s exhibit is just one of five readings put forth by scholars.
All agree that the passage describes an apocalyptic vision of an attack on Jerusalem in which God appears with angels on chariots to save the city. The central angelic character is Gabriel, the first angel to appear in the Hebrew Bible. “I am Gabriel,” the writing declares.
The stone inscription is one of the oldest passages featuring the archangel, and represents an “explosion of angels in Second Temple Judaism,” at a time of great spiritual angst for Jews in Jerusalem looking for divine connection, said Adolfo Roitman, a curator of the exhibit.
The exhibit traces the development of the archangel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions, displaying a Dead Sea Scroll fragment which mentions the angel’s name; the 13th century Damascus Codex, one of the oldest illustrated manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Bible; a 10th century New Testament manuscript from Brittany, in which Gabriel predicts the birth of John the Baptist and appears to the Virgin Mary; and an Iranian Quran manuscript dated to the 15th or 16th century, in which the angel, called Jibril in Arabic, reveals the word of God to the prophet Mohammad.
“Gabriel is not archaeology. He is still relevant for millions of people on earth who believe that angels are heavenly beings on earth,” said Roitman. The Gabriel Stone, he said, is “the starting point of an ongoing tradition that still is relevant today.”
The story of how the stone was discovered is just as murky as its meaning. A Bedouin man is said to have found it in Jordan on the eastern banks of the Dead Sea around the year 2000, Knohl said. An Israeli university professor later examined a piece of earth stuck to the stone and found a composition of minerals only found in that region of the Dead Sea.
The stone eventually made it into the hands of Ghassan Rihani, a Jordanian antiquities dealer based in Jordan and London, who in turn sold the stone to Swiss-Israeli collector David Jeselsohn in Zurich for an unspecified amount. Rihani has since died. The Bible scholar traveled to Jordan multiple times to look for more potential stones, but was unable to find the stone’s original location.
Israel Museum curators said Jeselsohn lent the stone to the museum for temporary display.
Lenny Wolfe, an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem, said that before the Jordanian dealer bought it, another middleman faxed him an image of the stone and offered it for sale.
“The fax didn’t come out clearly. I had no idea what it was,” said Wolfe, who passed on the offer. It was “one of my biggest misses,” Wolfe said.
What function the stone had, where it was displayed, and why it was written are unknown, said curators of the Israel Museum exhibit.
“There is still so much that is unclear,” said Michal Dayagi-Mendels, a curator of the exhibit. Scholars, she said, “will still argue about this for years.”
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Fox News’ Ed Henry Challenges Obama on Syria’s Chemical Weapons — and Obama Redefines His ‘Red Line’
Posted April 30, 2013 at 11:57 am by Billy Hallowell
With evidence that Syria has purportedly used chemical weapons against its own people, President Barack Obama spoke out today against Bashar al-Assad and his regime. That said, he was seemingly somewhat more measured and cautious than he has been in the past when describing about how the United States plans to handle the contentious scenario.
Last year, Obama said that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” — one that would apparently determine whether more drastic steps would be needed to prevent additional abuses. But, as National Review explains, the president was more tempered when discussing the issue today:
Despite evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its people, President Obama today said that the United States will not intervene in the conflict until both the administration and the international community can establish that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. “We don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them, we don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened,” he told reporters.
Even if those facts were established, the president — who previously said the use of chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” — was more cautious today about whether even definitive proof of their use would be sufficient to change his administration’s calculus in the region. “It would cause us to rethink the range of options that are available to us,” he said.
Watch Obama describe some of these elements, below:
Fox News White House Correspondent Ed Henry started his questioning by asking the president, “Do you risk U.S. credibility if you don’t take military action?” During an explanation of the Syrian conflict as it currently stands — a direct response to this question — the president used the words “game changer.”
As Mediaite notes, Henry then questioned whether a “game changer” would mean that the U.S. military would intervene. Obama responded with the aforementioned idea that the government would need to “rethink the range of options” the U.S. — and international community — has to rectifying the situation.
Here’s a more robust clip that shows Henry’s question and Obama’s complete answer:
(H/T: National Review)
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Feds Pushing Proposal to Penalize Companies for Refusing to Wiretap
Posted April 30, 2013 at 11:53 am by Liz Klimas
Just last week, documents released through a FIOA request revealed the Department of Justice gave tech companies immunity from breaking federal wiretapping laws in exchange for allowing law enforcement to intercept online communications. Now, it is being revealed that the feds are seeking not only to obtain information voluntarily from Internet Service Providers but want to penalize those who don’t cooperate with their requests for this information.
The Washington Post reported officials familiar with the draft proposal saying fines starting at tens of thousands of dollars could be impressed upon ISPs who don’t comply with wiretap orders. If fines are not paid within 90 days, the amount unpaid could double — daily.
“Today, if you’re a tech company that’s created a new and popular way to communicate, it’s only a matter of time before the FBI shows up with a court order to read or hear some conversation,” Michael Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Perkins Coie’s Washington office who represents technology firms, told the Washington Post. “If the data can help solve crimes, the government will be interested.”
Here’s more from the Post regarding the draft proposal:
Some technology companies have developed a wiretap capability for some of their services. But a range of communications companies and services are not required to do so under what is known as CALEA, the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Among those services are social media networks and the chat features on online gaming sites.
Former officials say the challenge for investigators was exacerbated in 2010, when Google began end-to-end encryption of its e-mail and text messages after its networks were hacked. Facebook followed suit. That made it more difficult for the FBI to intercept e-mail by serving a court order on the Internet service provider, whose pipes would carry the encrypted traffic.
The proposal would make clear that CALEA extends to Internet phone calls conducted between two computer users without going through a central company server — what is sometimes called “peer-to-peer” communication. But the heart of the proposal would add a provision to the 1968 Wiretap Act that would allow a court to levy fines.
Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security earlier in the 2000s, told the Post that proposals like this are not to increase surveillance capabilities but “to make sure their existing authorities can be applied across the full range of communications technologies.”
But privacy advocates that have long challenged some of the government’s wiretapping activities, like the Center for Democracy and Technology, are likely to balk at the draft proposal that would penalize companies in non-compliance.
“This proposal is a non-starter that would drive innovators overseas and cost American jobs,” Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel at CDT said. “They might as well call it the Cyber Insecurity and Anti-Employment Act.”
A reason why companies might not want to create a way that communications could be intercepted from their systems, former Sun Microsystems engineer Susan Landau said, is because it could make them vulnerable to hacking.
Marcus Thomas, former assistant director for a tech division of the FBI, agreed but is reported as saying that there are measures that can be implemented to make sure the system would still be secure. Although, they come at a cost though.
The Post reported that small companies would be exempt from being fined for non-compliance with wiretapping requests.
Initiatives like this to access communications and overcoming the “going dark” issue, the FBI’s General Counsel Andrew Weissmann said at a meeting with the American Bar Association in March, are a “top priority” for the FBI.
“I certainly am sympathetic of people’s expectations of where, of how they keep things …it’s definitely one that’s evolving,” Weissmann said at the meeting. “I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that our view is not ‘technologically neutral,’ because I think the law right now really does differentiate whether you’re keeping something at home or whether you’re giving it to a third party. But I do think there is room for a healthy debate on that and I think the department has … shown sort of admirable movement on trying to analyze those issues.”
Read more about the draft proposal and the perspectives weighing in on it in the Washington Posts’ full article here.
Obama on Allegations Benghazi Whistleblowers Have Been Blocked From Testifying: ‘I’m Not Familiar With it’
Posted April 30, 2013 at 11:37 am by Becket Adams
President Obama on Tuesday said he is unaware that anyone has been blocked from testifying on the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“There are people in your own State Department saying they have been blocked from coming forward,” said Fox News’ Ed Henry, “that they survived the terror attack and they want to tell their story.”
He is referring to recent reports that at least four officials at the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency have been warned by unnamed Obama administration officials about testifying on the Benghazi terror attacks.
“Will you help them come forward and say it once and for all?” Henry asked.
“Ed,” the president responded. “I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody has been blocked from testifying. What I’ll do is I’ll find out what, exactly, you’re referring to.”
“Our job, with respect to Benghazi, has been to find out exactly what happened, to make sure that U.S. embassies – not just in the Middle East but around the world – are safe and secure, and to bring those who carried it out to justice. But I’ll find out, exactly, what you’re referring to.”
“[T]hey’ve hired an attorney because they say they’ve been blocked from coming forward,” Henry persisted.
“I’m not familiar with it,” the president responded:
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images. This post has been updated.
City Threatens Child’s Remarkable Playhouse Over Zoning Laws
Posted April 30, 2013 at 11:29 am by Erica Ritz
There aren’t many who didn’t dream of having a playhouse of their own when they were a child. Most of us sufficed with temporary blankets draped over furniture as an improvised fort, but a 5-year-old in Ocala, Florida, is one of the lucky ones who actually got everything he dreamed of. Built of wood, the miniature edifice looks like something out of a fairytale. It’s surrounded by lush flowers, and even has a television inside.
But according to WESH-TV, since the playhouse isn’t in compliance with the city’s zoning regulations, the D’Annunzio family could have to tear it down.
There are, apparently, two problems with the playhouse. First, the family put it in the front yard because they didn’t have spaced in the back. Second, since the family’s home dates to the early 1900′s and is in the historic district, they need approval from the Historic Preservation Board. They need to pay $1000 to apply for a variance for the first “offense,” which the family says it can’t responsibly pay.
“I can’t afford $1,000 to just apply for a variance. I don’t have that type of money,” Robert D’Annunzio, a barber, said. “I find it offensive that I can’t have a playhouse for my child on my own property.”
If the family refuses to comply within 120 days, they will reportedly face a $25 daily fine.
They were actually warned by code enforcement authorities when they were constructing the playhouse back in December, but proceeded to build it anyway.
Thomas Dobbins, the special magistrate, reprimanded them during a hearing last Thursday: “You understand that you have to obtain the right permits to do that? You were informed about that, and then you proceeded to complete construction.”
But Robert D’Annunzio explained, according to Ocala.com: “I didn’t get a rule book when I bought the house…I’m just trying to live my life on my property. I think people should be able to live in their own property.”
The family says their son will be “devastated” if they have to tear it down.
But the city isn’t the only body that takes issue with the playhouse. Local reports indicate the neighborhood itself is divided.
One man who lives down the street told WESH-TV the playhouse looks like “junk,” but another woman said: “I just think it’s a sweet little family and it’s a cute little house…and I think they have a right to have that…”
Danielle D’Annunzio reportedly turned on her critics during last week’s hearing. “I don’t know what I did to these people. I’m just trying to be a mom. That’s all I am doing,” she said.
But Jane Cosand, a member of the Ocala Historic Preservation Advisory Board, said she objects to the playhouse in her role as a private citizen.
“He (D’Annunzio) knew he had to get a (certificate of appropriateness),” she remarked.
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You Won’t Believe What This Guy Blew His Life Savings On
Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:59 am by Becket Adams
And all he has to show for gambling away his life savings is a stuffed banana with dread locks.
“You’re expecting the kids to win a few things, let the kids have a good time,” Henry Gribbohm told CBS Boston. “It just didn’t turn out that way.”
The Massachusetts man confirmed that he went to the carnival, which is run by New Hampshire-based Fiesta Shows, with the intention of winning the gadget via a game called “Tubs of Fun” (what could possibly go wrong with this idea?).
He even practiced by himself before heading off to the carnival. However, once he got there and started playing, he says something was not right:
“It’s not possible that it wasn’t rigged,” said Gribbohm, who has apparently just discovered that carnie games are not exactly on the up-and-up.
“The 30-year-old from Epsom says he kept trying to win back his money by going double or nothing,” CBS Boston reports. “He dropped $300 in just a few minutes, then says he went home to get $2,300 more and soon lost all of that as well.”
Yes, he lost $2,600, his life savings, trying to win a video game gadget.
“You just get caught up in the whole ‘I’ve got to win my money back,’” he said.
The carnival’s organizer, Fiesta Shows, said “Tubs of Fun” is run by an independent contractor, adding that they’ll “get to the bottom” of this story.
“They’ve been with us quite a while,” said Fiesta Vice President John Flynn. “First I ever heard of anything like that.”
He added that it’s “pretty next to impossible” to blow that kind of cash on a single game.
“I know it’s a difficult game. I’ve tried it myself — I’ve done it once, missed probably 20 times,” he said.
Gribbohm tried get his money back, but was only able to get $600 from the vendor. He left and filed a report with the Manchester Police Department later that week.
“Manchester Police Lieutenant Maureen Tessier says the department is investigating to determine if there was any fraud,” CBS Boston reports.
“The traveling carnival is now setting up in Derry, NH, but you will not see Tubs Of Fun. Fiesta said the independent contractor that runs the game is not allowed to set up while an investigation is taking place,” the report adds.
Gribbohm says he’s considering legal action.
“For once in my life I happened to become that sucker,” said Gribbohm. “It was foolish for putting up my life savings.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image screen grab.
Israeli Stabbed to Death in West Bank by Palestinian Attacker
Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:41 am by Sharona Schwartz
Thirty-one-year-old, Evyatar Borowsky, a father of five, was killed by a knife-wielding Palestinian at a hitchhiking post in Samaria Tuesday morning. Israeli media report that his attacker approached Borowsky from behind, and then proceeded to stab him. The attacker grabbed Borowsky’s handgun, which he used to fire on nearby border police, who fired back and thus subdued him.
Though there have been reports in recent months of increased attacks on Israelis using rocks and Molotov cocktails, Borowsky is the first Israeli killed in Judea and Samaria, that is, the West Bank, in more than a year.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg who heads a Jewish seminary in Kedumim witnessed the attack. He tells the Tazpit News Agency that he saw mayhem as he approached the scene Tuesday morning.
“I saw three young women jump into the street. I then heard shots fired. I noticed a person who was lying on the ground get up with a gun in his hand. I slowed down and ducked so he wouldn’t see me,” Goldberg said.
“I then called the emergency center to notify them about the incident. I now understand that the terrorist nabbed the gun from the Jew he murdered and I was the first target he saw,” he added.
Chillingly, he says that several bullets hit his vehicle.
Paramedics tried to resuscitate him, but Borowsky was declared dead on the scene, while his attacker was taken to an Israeli hospital
Israeli forces fanned out on Tuesday after Jewish settlers began rioting and attacking Palestinians in retaliation for the murder which took place at the Tapuah junction.
The Times of Israel quotes Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council head Gershon Mesika who is blaming Israeli security forces for being too complacent as rock attacks have increased.
“This despicable murder is a direct result of the impotence in the face of rock-throwing, the removal of roadblocks, and the continued treatment of terror attacks as ‘disorderly conduct,’” Mesika said.
“The IDF and security establishment must internalize the fact that terror kills. The government has to get with the program and acknowledge that terrorism is terrorism,” he added.
But Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman Captain Barak Raz told the Jerusalem Post, “This reminds us that even in times of relative calm, the alertness and quick response by security forces is very necessary. We are working 24 hours a day to maintain this stability.”
Palestinian sources tell Ynet that the suspect in the killing is a Fatah operative named Salam Za’al, 24, who previously served three years in Israeli prison for stone-throwing. While he was released about six months ago, his brother was convicted and sentenced by the Palestinian Authority on Monday to serve time in prison for allegedly collaborating with Israel.
Ynet reports, “The security establishment is looking into the possibility that the terror attack was an attempt to prove that the family has not collaborated with Israel and ‘clear its name.’”
Ynet describes the reaction of some settlers:
A bus carrying Palestinian schoolgirls was attacked with stones, and its windshield was shattered. The driver was injured and evacuated to a hospital.
Settlers also entered the Palestinian village of Urif, torched structures, threw rocks and injured at least one local. Seven settlers have been arrested so far on suspicion of rioting.
During the violence, a Palestinian truck was also stoned, and fields near the Palestinian villages of Burin and Madama were set ablaze. The security establishment is preparing for the possibility that settler riots in the area will continue following Borovsky’s murder. Large forces have been deployed in the region to quell the violence.
The Tapuah junction, near the city of Ariel, has seen several attacks against settlers and IDF soldiers in recent years.
The Times of Israel reports that a Palestinian stabbed a teenager there in January. In May, five Palestinian were arrested over several weeks carrying pipe bombs, pistol, ammunition and Molotov cocktails. And three years ago an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death in that location.
The Jewish Press reports, “There have been 4 terror attempts at this junction in the past month alone.”
According to the Tazpit News Agency, a nearby IDF checkpoint was removed a few months ago.
Israel National News reports that Borowsky lived in the settlement Yitzhar near Nablus, worked as an actor and was involved in the field of therapeutic psychodrama, which via role-playing helps people overcome their traumatic experiences. A father of five, Borowsky’s oldest child is seven, according to Israel National News.
His father, Baruch Borowsky, told Army Radio that Evyatar was currently enrolled in a “medical clowning” course, whose graduates help raise the spirits of hospitalized children.
“He was a righteous man,” the elder Borowsky said of his son.
Here is a report on the incident from Israel National TV:
Mid-Air Collision of Two Small Planes Leaves One Pilot Dead
Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:16 am by Liz Klimas
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. (TheBlaze/AP) — Two small airplanes collided in midair over the Southern California mountains Monday, sending one crashing into a rocky ridge and killing its pilot while the second was able to maneuver a belly-flop landing on a nearby golf course, officials said.
Rescuers searched through the wreckage of the plane that crashed and sparked a fire in rocky terrain in Calabasas and found the body of one person believed to be the only one aboard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
Watch KTLA’s report with the latest as of Tuesday morning:
The Calasabas Patch reported a couple hiking witnessed the crash as it occurred mid-air.
“My wife and I … were hiking along Craig Road in the Malibu Creek State Park. It happened almost overhead of us,” Tim Willms wrote in an email to the Patch.
He continued that they saw the plane go down and heard “a very loud ‘explosion’ type sound.”
“Then we saw the smoke go up, very black,” Willms wrote.
Firefighters responding to a report of a small wildfire at about 2 p.m. spotted the aircraft debris, put out the fire and began a search for survivors, county fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson said.
Three people on the plane that landed on a fairway while stunned golfers looked on had minor injuries.
Aaron Jesse, 47, said he had left work early for a round with friends at Westlake Golf Course and saw the low-flying plane hit a tree, spin around 180 degrees and land surprisingly gently.
“Finally being a bad golfer paid off,” Jesse told the Los Angeles Times. “I hit it in the trees to the right. They landed 50 feet to the left of us in the center of the fairway. All we heard was a thud and then he made a gentle bounce and slid down the center of the fairway.”
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said a preliminary review of radar records showed the two flight-paths crossed just after 2 p.m.
The golf-course plane, a single-engine Cessna 172, was flying west at an altitude of 3,500 feet when the second plane, also a Cessna 172, approached from the east after leaving Santa Monica Airport for a test flight.
The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating.
FAA records show the plane on the golf course was manufactured in 1980 and is registered to Ameriflyers of Florida, LLC. A message left at a number listed for the company was not immediately returned.
School Tries to Clarify Anti-Bullying Presentation That Had Students ‘Pretend They Were Lesbians’
Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:13 am by Liz Klimas
Parents in Redhook, New York, are outraged over an anti-bullying presentation that taught middle school students not only about terms like “pansexual” and “genderqueer,” but according to one parent had two students “pretend they were lesbians on a date.” In another role-playing situation, a female student had to ask another if she could kiss her.
The presentation, led by Bard College volunteers at Linden Avenue Middle School a few weeks ago (and without prior knowledge of the parents), had some like Mandy Coon upset. Here’s Coon’s account on the Christian News Network:
“She told me, ‘Mom, we all get teased and picked on enough; now I’m going to be called a lesbian because I had to ask another girl if I could kiss her,’” she lamented. “They also picked two girls to stand in front of the class and pretend they were lesbians on a date.”
Coon stated that she was especially irate over the matter because parents were given no warning about the presentations, nor an opportunity to opt out. She is also dismayed that college students were granted the right to come into the classroom and encourage her daughter to be sexually active.
“I am furious,” she declared. “I am her parent. Where does anyone get the right to tell her that it’s okay for her to have sex?”
The Poughkeepsie Journal reports superintendent of Red Hook Central School District Paul Finch saying workshops like these are required under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, which states that instruction in “civility, citizenship and character” would include “concepts of tolerance, respect for others and dignity.” Topics for this would include race, nationality, religion, weight, sexual orientation and gender identity, among others.
Finch told the Journal such workshops “may require more notification to parents” in the future.
Coon told the Journal that aside from the content of the workshop for the eighth grade class, she finds it baffling that if such topics are required to be taught, “why are they bringing in other unlicensed, untrained professionals — college kids — to teach this?”
Finch said the student volunteers worked with the school’s principal, Katie Zahedi, and other guidance counselors about the workshop’s format. Zahedi explained on a Facebook forum, according to the Journal, that the role-playing mentioned by Coon was “not to pretend to be gay” but to practice saying “no.”
“In planning the discussion, we made it clear that absolutely no discussion of any sexual acts is appropriate to middle school, and they used the examples of a kiss,” Zahedi wrote. “It was a separate activity for boys and girls and ultimately about respect and safety.”
Whats more, the Red Hook School District website posted important facts to clarify inaccurate reporting about the workshop:
- Contrary to a few media reports, female students were not forced to engage in any “lesbian kissing”.
- Contrary to a few media reports, male students were not told to carry condoms.
- Contrary to a few media reports, sexual activity among young adolescents was not condoned or promoted in any way.
These sessions were designed by the building leadership in an effort to have eighth graders treat each other with respect and to develop in our young adolescents an appreciation for personal dignity. To suggest that we would condone or promote sexual activity among teenagers is absurd. It is equally absurd to suggest that an activity, designed to have young women feel more confident saying no to unwanted advances from boys, is in some way promoting a lesbian lifestyle. It is my understanding that the role playing activity is part of a program supported by conservatives such as Laura Bush.
The definitions given to students, while overly granular in my opinion, were put forth to make sure that students understand that all gender identities and/or sexual orientations are protected in law in New York State as part of an effort to curb harassment, discrimination, and bullying. It is our intent to adjust this document and be less granular in future lessons.
In response to concern about the workshop from parents, the school the following week hosted an open meeting to receive feedback.
“Having attended the parent information session last week, I can speak with absolute certainty that the parents present at the meeting appreciated the District’s intent and left knowing that the middle school principal will adjust for any implementation weaknesses moving into the future,” Finch wrote in his letter to Starns.
This story has been updated to correct a typo.
Report: FBI Docs Said to Reveal Saudi Family Living in Fla. Had Ties to 9/11 Terrorists (Plus: Was There a Larger Saudi Network in the U.S.?)
Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:49 am by Billy Hallowell
Nearly 12 years after 9/11, there are still questions about the individuals and groups behind America’s most deadly terror attack. And now, newly-released FBI reports are raising more questions after they seemingly link one Saudi family that once resided in Florida to some of the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack.
That family is the al-Hijji family, according to the Miami Herald (based on a report by BrowardBulldog.org). In the past, that family’s head — Abdulaziz al-Hijji — has denied ties to the assailants responsible for the horrific event, but his family’s apparent connections are now emerging in recently-obtained U.S. documentation.
New records were released by the FBI amid a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by BrowardBulldog.org, an investigative news web site. Intriguing — and some might argue disturbing — information is presented within them. Some political leaders believe that this information could provide more insight about how terrorists were able to carry out such a massive attack.
But, while some of the documents do seem to tie the family to 9/11 hijackers, more recent FBI information present in the documents denies viable relationships were found (the documentation can be read in its entirety here). A Sept. 2010 document reads, “The FBI found no evidence that connected the family members mentioned in the Miami Herald article to any of the 9/11 hijackers, not was any connection found between the family and the 9/11 plot.”
According to the Miami Herald, the records came out in two tiers. First, there are documents pertaining to reports and written information from 2001 and 2002, directly following the Sept. 11 attacks. Then, there are letters and e-mails from 2010 and 2011, when media first noted that an investigation into the family took place. Here’s one older record showing connections between the family and those involved in the terror attack:
The al-Hijji family purportedly fled its home just weeks before Sept. 11, 2001 and, according to earlier FBI records, they had “many connections” to the individuals associated with the terror attack. The Miami Herald explains how the contents in these newly-released documents may shed additional light on the 9/11 attacks:
A Saudi family who “fled” their Sarasota area home weeks before 9/11 had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001,” according to newly released FBI records.
One partially declassified document, marked “secret,” lists three of those individuals and ties them to the Venice, Fla., flight school where suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi trained. Accomplice Ziad Jarrah took flying lessons at another school a block away.
Atta and al-Shehhi were at the controls of the jetliners that slammed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people. Jarrah was the hijacker-pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
The names, addresses and dates of birth of the three individuals tied to the flight school were blanked out before the records were released to BrowardBulldog.org amid ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation.
Again, it’s important to note that the FBI later said that there were no connections between the family and the hijackers. Furthermore, the family claims that its departure was scheduled. Clearly, there’s some disagreement.
The records are 31 pages long, although there are some areas that are blackened out and four pages were not released (so, there are 35 pages in sum), as authorities cited national security for these exclusions. The new information about the family’s ties sparks questions about what role, if any, Saudi Arabia played in the attacks (or, at the least, if the terrorists had additional help from other Saudis in the U.S.).
As the Herald noted earlier this month, the newer information in the document runs counter to previous statements made by FBI agents who said that an investigation found evidence linking hijackers to the al-Hijjis family. It has been nearly two years since the Herald and the BrowardBulldog.org first released information about the family and its alleged ties to 9/11 terrorists.
According to those earlier reports, neighbors tipped the FBI after the attacks, noting that the family fled in August of 2001, leaving cars, personal items and food behind. The Herlad continues, providing more information about the new revelations:
The FBI records as released do not identify al-Hijji or anyone else by name, citing various exemptions that protect persons’ names in law enforcement records. The names are apparent, however, because the documents describe unique, known events and were released in specific response to a request for information about the investigation at the al-Hijji residence.
An April 16, 2002, FBI report says “repeated citizen calls” led to an inspection of the home by agents of the Southwest Florida Domestic Security Task Force.
“It was discovered that the [family name deleted] left their residence quickly and suddenly. They left behind valuable items, clothing, jewelry and food in a manner that indicated they fled unexpectedly without prior preparation or knowledge,” the report says. “Further investigation of the [name deleted] family revealed many connections between the [name deleted] and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
The report lists three of those individuals. While their identities remain secret, the first person on the list was described as “a [name deleted] family member.”
That person and a second individual were said to be flight students at Huffman Aviation — the flight school at the Venice Municipal Airport attended by hijackers Atta and al-Shehhi.
Previously, Abdulaziz al-Hijji has said that he had no connection to the 9/11 plot. Rather than fleeing the home in haste, he has claimed that he and his family left so that he could take a job with Aramco, a Saudi oil company. It was reported in 2012 that he was living in London, although the company now claims that he is no longer in that office.
Despite denials, it seems some of the 9/11 terrorists have been to Hijji’s home. The Telegraph reported in 2012 that security records for the gated community that the al-Hijji home was located in show that Mohamed Atta, the leader of the terrorist team responsible for hijacking planes on 9/11, visited a number of times. Additionally, the outlet reported that Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah also visited the home.
This already-known information teamed with new revelations provided in the FBI documents are causing some, like Sen. Bob Graham to wonder if there was a broader Saudi network in the U.S. that assisted the terrorists in carrying out the 9/11 attacks.
Graham, a Democrat, is seeking a new investigation into the situation to learn more about the extent to which a network may have gone. Following the release of the documents, Graham made it clear that he believes the 9/11 hijackers may have had assistance.
“One question that has gone unanswered through the investigation of 9/11 is, ‘Did the hijackers operate alone or did they have accomplices who facilitated their ability to act?’” he told the Herald. “I think the information we have now makes a very strong case that they did.”
The senator maintains that a deeper investigation into the family’s alleged ties could be helpful in gleaning more information about what led to the loss of thousands of American lives.
“What we’ve discovered in Sarasota may be another step toward exposing a larger network of Saudi-related individuals who assisted the hijackers,” he said.
For more about the new FBI documents that add more information about the family, read the Herald report.
(H/T: Zero Hedge)
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MSNBC’s Boston Bombing Coverage Lost Them Viewers – Was Partisanship in Covering Islamist Angle to Blame?
Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:41 am by Politix
By Mary Noble, Senior Editor at Politix
Why did MSNBC lose the ratings war during the Boston bombing coverage? The answer depends on your political leanings. If you’re conservative, the network was “outrageous” in failing to cover the Islamist angle. If you’re liberal, MSNBC was “resolutely non-partisan” and lost out to Fox’s “sensationalism.”
“Left-wing liberal cable news networks are dying,” Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, after the Boston manhunt week in which Fox news had their best ratings since Katrina, while MSNBC ended the week in nineteenth place, far behind than CNN, which normally trails MSNBC. The Fox ratings spike shows that “radical left liberals” are a minority, Limbaugh claims, and that MSNBC is alienating potential viewers with its “liberalism and radicalism.”
Is Limbaugh correct – did MSNBC’s partisanship lose them viewers during the Boston manhunt?
Yes, says Mark Finkelstein of Newsbusters, a conservative site that tracks the liberal media. Americans didn’t want MSNBC’s partisan coverage, and may have been driven to Fox because it was more balanced, he claims. “It wouldn’t surprise me if some of [MSNBC’s] more moderate viewers drifted off” during the network’s post-Boston coverage, said Finkelstein. “In times of crisis people are looking for hard news and facts.”
The network came under fire from the right for post-Boston commentary like Melissa Harris-Perry’s widely decried claim that the Tsarnaevs’ Muslim faith was no more relevant to the bombings than Ben Affleck movies. Fox host Bill O’Reilly ripped into MSNBC for trying to “denigrate the serious issue of Islamic terrorism.”
“To me the most outrageous one was the [MSNBC] guest saying their Chechen background had nothing to do with the bombing,” Finkelstein says. Regular MSNBC viewers might well think “these are not the people to go to for coverage of Islamist terrorists,” Finkelstein adds. “Fox isn’t going to have any qualms about covering Islamist terrorists.”
Others disagree. MSNBC’s lack of partisanship and balanced reporting likely lost them viewers, argues Murtaza Hussain, analyst for the English edition of Al Jazeera. MSNBC ratings dropped during the manhunt because the network was “deliberately tamping down the fear factor compared to their competitors,” while Fox was “more sensational.”
“What [MSNBC hosts] were doing was resolutely non-partisan,” Hussein argued. “I don’t think they were acting partisan during the crisis at all. They didn’t push the story of a brown-skinned suspect. Not doing that is not necessarily left-wing, unless being right-wing is associated with bigotry.”
MSNBC’s ratings will bounce back, suggests Hussein, now that the network can return to opinion and commentary rather than breaking news. “The fact is that unfortunately the way psychology works is that straight news when it’s competing with very extreme news it won’t be as appealing,” Hussein said.
But perhaps partisanship had nothing to do with ratings during the manhunt week. MSNBC’s “weakness lies in the depth of its practical journalism field,” says Dean Barnett, a hospital nurse from Denver and regular cable news viewer. Fox has more of a reputation for breaking news. “I’m always interested in what Chris Hayes or Ezra Klein has to say about the news, but I prefer Shep Smith for real time reporting,” Barnett said.
Alternatively MSNBC may have lost out due to its own co-network NBC. “NBC led all the broadcast companies with a significant ratings victory. In primetime on the Friday of the manhunt week, NBC averaged 9.3 million viewers,” according to the New York Times. That’s compared to 3.2 million who watched Fox, 2.9 million who tuned into CNN, and 1.7 million who watched MSNBC.
In general, has MSNBC gone “too far left”? It’s certainly moved left recently, says Finkelstein, citing “outrageous” Melissa Harris-Perry segments on abortion “where she referred to unborn children as ‘things.’” Longstanding MSNBC hosts have moved left over the years, he said. “Matthews used to be an old-time Democrat” but “he’s got very much harsher in recent years.” It’s a strategy to gain ratings, or “a function of staking out his turf in the MSNBC world,” Finkelstein added.
MSNBC isn’t “too far” left unless you’re a conservative, suggests Barnett. “What Matt Kibbe of Freedom Works calls leftist might be just right of center for Chris Matthews,” he adds.
Would a shift to the left herald the decline of MSNBC? No, it will help them grow, most say.
Limbaugh is wrong to draw sweeping conclusions based on a single week’s news, argues Jesse Holcomb of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “It was a fascinating week [but] I wouldn’t say it necessarily indicates some kind of a sea change in dynamics of the cable news scene,” he said.
Viewers recognize that the network’s partisanship is a business decision, and MSNBC may go further left to increase audience. “Each outlet plays to a certain market niche,” says Barnett. But, he adds, “Fox’s demographics are working against it. As its audience ages out, Fox will change its editorial policies to match an increasingly younger but still conservative market. This shift will allow MSNBC to move even further left as its relative position changes. It may be that someday Fox will resemble today’s MSNBC while the smaller network morphs into something completely unimaginable today.”
So we may yet see MSNBC go even further left, and their ratings may rise as a result.
More from Politix:
70% of Americans Think More Surveillance Cameras in Public Is a Good Idea
Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:15 am by Liz Klimas
Very soon after the Boston Bombings April 15, some like Rep. Peter King (R-NY) were making a case for more surveillance cameras in public places. Not only could the cameras help increase public safety, proponents would argue, but — as in the case with catching the suspects in the bombing of the Boston Marathon — the surveillance footage can be used in investigations. Still, privacy advocates have long spoken against a pervasive use of the technology.
But what does the American public think?
According to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, 70 percent of Americans favor the use of surveillance cameras in public places. At the same time, 23 percent have said they think the existing cameras have violated their privacy and 24 percent reported believing the U.S. legal system worries too much about public safety. Conversely, 28 percent said the system worries too much about protecting individual rights.
Of the 1,000 adults surveyed a week after the Boston bombings, 18 percent opposed the use of surveillance cameras in public and 11 percent were undecided on the issue.
As TheBlaze reported a couple days after the marathon attack, which killed three and injured hundreds, Rep. King said on MSNBC he favored more cameras, pointing to the success of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, to “stay ahead of terrorists.”
“So yes, I do favor more cameras. They’re a great law enforcement method and device. And again, it keeps us ahead of the terrorists, who are constantly trying to kill us,” King said.
More recently, King on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday said he felt police should increase surveillance on Muslim communities specifically, even though he said “most Muslims [are] outstanding people.”
To Politico over the weekend, King expounded upon this idea.
“When you’re going after the Mafia you go to Italian communities… If you’re looking for Islamic terrorism, you focus on Muslim communities,” he told Politico. “We’re at war with Islamic terrorism. It’s coming from people within the Muslim community by the terrorists coming from that community, just like the Mafia comes from Italian communities.”
King clashed on the topic with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Muslim Democrat, who said on “Meet the Press” that not only would this tactic be “ineffective” at thwarting crimes, but compared it to internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.
King countered saying “internment” is not what he meant but more simply that people need to “accept the reality that the element is coming from within the Muslim community.”
- Political Correctness and Preventing Islamic Radicalization at Home
- Do Boston Bombings Make a Case for More Camera Surveillance
- Rep. Keith Ellison Compares Muslim Community to Japanese Internment During WWII
- ‘Dangers of Surveillance’: Privacy Expert Reviews Why Increased Spying Is Bad
Featured image via Shutterstock.com.
Can the Government Ban ‘Assault Weapons’? Constitutional Experts Weigh In
Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:45 am by Mytheos Holt
This article is part of a series on Guns in America that explores the use of firearms in our country and the debate over gun control.
Since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the major responses has been to increase restrictions on gun rights, presumably to reduce the probability that a mass shooting will take place.
But what if their proposed methods for doing so are unconstitutional? That’s the argument advanced by some experts on constitutional law, who argue that the landmark cases of District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago protect against the most controversial ideas being proposed, such as an assault weapons ban. Moreover, even some renowned liberal experts on the same law law admit that the tools available to the government are limited.
Key questions in the debate are: Can the government ban assault weapons without violating the Constitution? If so, why? To answer these questions, TheBlaze spoke to legal authorities on both sides of the ideological divide, including some truly famous names within the realm of constitutional law. What we found may surprise you.
I. Background: Heller, McDonald and the Limits of the Second Amendment
When it comes to the regulation of gun rights, two Supreme Court cases stand out as definitive: The 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, and the 2010 case McDonald v. Chicago. Both cases conclusively established that the individual right to keep and bear arms is protected by the Constitution, and that this right is in force whether one is talking about state-level gun law or federal gun law.
One might think this is the end of almost every gun law. After all, if there’s a constitutional right involved, the assumption is that the government can’t do anything to infringe on that right, right? Wrong. Every constitutional right has exceptions, or place where a right doesn’t apply. For instance, the Supreme Court has found exceptions to the First Amendment to include things like fighting words, obscenity and words that present a “clear and present danger” (such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater when no fire exists). That is, the government can regulate, and even ban, such exercises of “speech” without running afoul of the First Amendment.
Similarly, both Heller and McDonald set limits on the right to keep and bear arms, even as they affirm that that right exists. TheBlaze has covered some of those limits already, but for now, it’s enough to quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller, which sets up the current controversy:
Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.
Some of this might strike the reader as obvious. However, there is one point of vagueness, which is where most of the controversy in the current climate comes in. Scalia writes that “dangerous and unusual weapons” are not protected by the Second Amendment. This raises a very simple question: What counts as “dangerous and unusual?” In fact, what counts as “dangerous”? What counts as “unusual?” If a weapon is only dangerous, but not unusual, or only unusual, but not dangerous, is it protected by the Second Amendment? The answers to these questions aren’t obvious, and they have real, non-academic implications for the government’s power.
II. Can the government ban assault weapons?
The original Heller case involved a ban on handguns in the District of Columbia, which the court struck down. The reasoning, in its briefest form, was as follows:
The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition—in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute—would fail constitutional muster.[...]
It is no answer to say, as petitioners do, that it is permissible to ban the possession of handguns so long as the possession of other firearms (i.e., long guns) is allowed. It is enough to note, as we have observed, that the Americanpeople have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upperbody strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police. Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.
In other words, the problem with the ban on handguns was simple: Handguns are a class of weapons that are commonly used. This would seem to suggest that the reference to “dangerous and unusual weapons” really should have emphasized the “unusual” part, given that all weapons are (relatively) dangerous.
On these grounds, at least one expert would toss out assault weapons bans entirely. That expert, Randy Barnett of Georgetown Law Center, explained his reasoning to theBlaze via phone:
“When you get down to specifics, I think some of the easier cases for finding unconstitutionality is the assault weapons ban, which bans a weapon in common use, which is the phrase that Heller used to describe the weapons that are protected by the Second Amendment,” Barnett told TheBlaze. “There’s hardly a weapon that’s in more common use than the AR-15 so-called assault weapon. I say so-called, because we all know this is a made-up category. They don’t fire any faster than a constitutionally protected handgun fires, and it’s typically less lethal than a handgun.”
Barnett continued, “Because these weapons are in common use, it seems like it would be unconstitutional to ban them, especially given the irrationality of the statute in which cosmetic features are used to distinguish the bad guns from the good guns.”
However, Barnett’s opinion is not held by everyone. Laurence Tribe, of Harvard Law School, declined to comment directly on this story, but forwarded TheBlaze an unedited version of his own testimony before Congress on this topic via email. Tribe takes a much more generous view of the question of assault weapons bans.
“Heller recognized that dangerous or unusual weapons may be and have historically been heavily regulated or banned,” Tribe’s testimony runs. “It is not inconceivable – indeed, it seems quite likely – that the court‘s pause to distinguish unusually dangerous weapons from widely possessed handguns had precisely the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which included a prohibition on high-capacity magazines, in mind. At the very least, the Heller majority recognized that the government could keep machine guns —M-16 rifles and the like—out of the hands of civilians. The Supreme Court thus emphatically rejected the extravagant, or as Justice Scalia characterized it, startling notion, still promoted by some, that the Second Amendment could fulfill its original purposes only if citizens were guaranteed a right to arm themselves to the teeth, matching in their private armories essentially the full array of weapons possessed by the United States Military.”
Even if the characterization of these features as cosmetic were accurate, it would make little difference as a constitutional matter. In a recent televised interview, Justice Scalia explained the basis in history for exempting certain types of regulations from Second Amendment review. Certain limitations on gun ownership are constitutionally permissible, he contended, because there were some regulations that were acknowledged at the time [of the Founding. For example, there was a tort called affrighting . . . if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something. . . . What the justice evidently meant was that regulating weapons because they are chosen specifically for their intimidating appearance is constitutionally unproblematic because the very use of intimidation is unnecessarily disruptive to organized society.
Even more important to the constitutionality of the assault weapons ban is the absence of any connection to the core Second Amendment right to defend oneself with a firearm. At this committee‘s hearing on January 30, several witnesses criticized the assault weapons ban on policy grounds, but in my role as a constitutional lawyer listening intently for arguments relevant to the proposal‘s Second Amendment propriety, I was struck by the failure of anyone‘s testimony to support these features as essential to self-defense. In fact, I have searched in vain for any reasoned arguments that pistol grips, forward grips, telescoping stocks, grenade or rocket launchers, and barrel shrouds are indispensable or even contribute to self-defense.
Interestingly, in the same testimony, Tribe does not dispute Barnett's characterization of the AR-15 magazine-fed semiautomatic rifle as a common weapon. In fact, he describes it as "America‘s most popular rifle." Nevertheless, for Tribe, the relevant point is not the fact that the weapon is common, but rather that it is unusually dangerous, an idea that Barnett disputes, arguing that handguns actually fire more damaging rounds than the AR-15.
Another interesting difference between the more liberal line taken by Tribe and the more conservative one taken by Barnett is in their perception of lower court decisions since Heller and McDonald were handed down. Tribe cites a recent decision by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals upholding Washington, DC's assault weapons to prove his points, whereas Barnett takes a much dimmer view of such cases.
"Many of the lower courts are engaged in what you might call civil disobedience against Heller and McDonald," Barnett told TheBlaze. "I would not rely on courts to protect the Second Amendment. The courts did not protect the right to keep and bear arms until 2006, and yet nevertheless we had such a right, and that right we had as a result of political action."
However, there is a compromise position between these two arguments, advanced by none other than Robert Levy of the Cato Institute, who was actually one of the co-counsels in favor of gun rights in the Heller case itself. In an interview this January, Levy told the Washington Post:
We had an assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004. The New York Times, after the ban expired, reported that despite dire predictions that the streets would be awash in military-style guns, expiration of the assault weapons ban has not set off a sustained surge in sales or caused any noticeable increase in gun crime. There are, of course, millions of these so-called assault weapons, and they’re used by millions of Americans for all sorts of things, including hunting, self-defense, target shooting, even the Olympics. Criminals use handguns because assault weapons are expensive and they’re difficult to conceal.
Now, [the Supreme Court] said that the Second Amendment would likely pose no barrier to outlawing weapons that are not in common use and are especially dangerous. And we have proof of that because fully automated weapons, like machine guns, have been essentially banned since 1934.
I don’t consider myself an expert on the technical features of firearms, and so I’m not prepared to say exactly which weapons would go on the list and which shouldn’t, but I think experts should be able to come up with a pretty good list — obviously not needed for self-defense, obviously dangerous, not in common use. And that would be the new assault weapons ban.
In other words, Levy argues, the idea of creating a category of uncommonly used weapons that are less dangerous than fully automatic weapons, but still dangerous relative to handguns, and banning that category of weapons from civilian use, is not unconstitutional. Whether that aim has been achieved in the current case is an issue that probably only courts can answer.
Here are the other pieces in our ongoing Guns in America series (running every Tuesday):
- Are Americans Really Giving Up Their Guns?
- How Important Are Guns to the U.S. Economy? For Starters, the Firearms Industry Employs Twice As Many Americans As GM
- How Many People Own Guns in America? And Is Gun Ownership Actually Declining?
- What Does History Say About When the Gov’t Tried to Restrict Guns in the Past?
- Should Second Amendment Be Taken Literally?
- History of Guns as Told Through Pictures
- Vietnam Vet Barred from Owning Guns Because of Teenage Misdemeanor 45 Years Ago
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