Patterico's Pontifications

5/1/2010

Car Bomb Found in Times Square

Filed under: General,Terrorism — Patterico @ 10:10 pm

But don’t worry. The feds tell us it’s not terrorism:

The police discovered a car bomb in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers from the area on a warm and busy Saturday evening, the police said.

Crowds were lined up on the south side of 43rd Street as the heart of Times Square was closed off to traffic.

There was no explosion.

“It appears to be a car bomb left in a Pathfinder between Seventh and Eighth” Avenues on 45th Street, said Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.

The device, he said, contained “explosive elements” that included “propane tanks, some kind of powder, gasoline and a timing device.”

“This is very much an active investigation,” he said.

The police would not say whether they had any suspects, and did not say if they had determined what might have been behind the event.

A federal official said it was not considered it [sic] a terrorist threat and that the New York Police Department had told the Department of Homeland Security to stand down. The official would not say why he believed that or what the New York Police Department told them about the episode.

Not a terrorist threat. Hoo-kay then.

Hot Air quotes what sounds like a Reuters story as follows:

Police officials said a witness reported a running Nissan Pathfinder with Connecticut plates, with smoke coming out of the back. A bomb squad robot popped the back latch of the Pathfinder, and officers found what they initially believed was a bomb. The vehicle was found to contain explosives, gasoline, propane and burned wires, a Fire Department officer told Reuters.

The officer, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said that a man was seen fleeing the S.U.V. and that the police evacuated the area in case there were other threats nearby.

But it’s not terrorism.

The system worked!

UPDATE: Just so it’s clear what we’re dealing with here, let me quote Allahpundit, who reminds us of a similar-sounding plot to detonate fuel-air bombs in London. There, like tonight’s bomb, propane tanks were to be used to set off a tremendous explosion:

Fuel-air bombs are hugely destructive, as this harrowing Danger Room article published after the London plot broke made all too clear. A fuel-air bomb properly detonated in Times Square on a Saturday night likely would have killed hundreds of people. If that’s what this was — and the feds evidently aren’t sure yet, despite reports of “fireworks” going on in the back seat and someone running away from the vehicle — then there’s a seriously dangerous individual running around NYC right now. Stay tuned.

I get a little sick of federal officials quickly declaring that there is no terrorism angle to an act that makes most sane people think instantly of terrorism. It’s not reassuring; on the contrary, it just seems clueless. Which is pretty damned far from reassuring.

UPDATE x2: They now finally admit it was a “potential terrorist attack.” You don’t say!

Obama on Government

Filed under: Government,Obama — DRJ @ 9:49 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Speaking at the University of Michigan commencement, President Obama cautioned Americans about negative opinions about government:

“In his 31-minute speech, Obama didn’t mention either Palin or the tea party movement that’s captured headlines with its fierce attacks on his policies. But he took direct aim at the anti-government language so prevalent today.

“What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad,” Obama said after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree. “When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us.”

Government, he said, is the roads we drive on and the speed limits that keep us safe. It’s the men and women in the military, the inspectors in our mines, the pioneering researchers in public universities.”

There he goes again.

Obama is adept at framing his political opponents’ arguments in an incorrect and extreme way, all the better to bat them down. Conservatives object to expensive, expansive, and big government — not the military, speed limits and roads. Many conservatives also object to elites who think they can govern better than mainstream Americans or as Obama describes us, bitter, clingy Americans:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Obama wants us to trust federal government but 8 in 10 of us don’t. That’s a lot of frustration, Mr. President.

– DRJ

May Day Protests

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 8:13 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Proponents of liberal immigration policies turned out across the nation to protest immigration enforcement and Arizona’s recent legislation:

“Angered by a controversial Arizona immigration law, tens of thousands of protesters – including 50,000 alone in Los Angeles – rallied in cities nationwide demanding President Barack Obama tackle immigration reform immediately.

“I want to thank the governor of Arizona because she’s awakened a sleeping giant,” said labor organizer John Delgado, who attended a rally in New York where authorities estimated 6,500 gathered.

From Los Angeles to Washington D.C., activists, families, students and even politicians marched, practiced civil disobedience and “came out” about their citizenship status in the name of rights for immigrants, including the estimated 12 million living illegally in the U.S.”

The turnout of 50,000 in LA was half of the 100,000 police expected. Houston had 7,000 protesters while Denver organizers estimated the crowds at between 3,000-7,000. El Paso protesters numbered about 400. Turnout in Dallas was larger — around 20,000 — although organizers had expected 100,000. However, it was marred by incidents of hate speech:

“In Dallas, police estimated at least 20,000 attended a Saturday rally. About a dozen people there carried signs depicting the Arizona governor as a Nazi and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough illegal immigration stance, as a Klansman. Organizers were asking sign holders to discard those placards.”

Today in Michigan, President Obama, called on Americans to tone down the rhetoric to avoid inciting “extreme elements” to violence. Unfortunately, I doubt he will list this incident as an example of the hateful rhetoric he was thinking about.

– DRJ

Taliban Gains Ground

Filed under: Obama,War — DRJ @ 8:12 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

A new Pentagon report says the Taliban in Afghanistan is getting stronger:

“The new report offers a grim take on the likely difficulty of establishing lasting security, especially in southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency enjoys broad support. The conclusions raise the prospect that the insurgency in the south may never be completely vanquished, but instead must be contained to prevent it from threatening the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The report concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai’s government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes.

U.S.-led military operations have had “some success in clearing insurgents from their strongholds, particularly in central Helmand,” the report said. But it adds: “The insurgent tactic of re-infiltrating the cleared areas to perform executions has played a role in dissuading locals from siding with the Afghan government, which has complicated efforts to introduce local governance.”

The report concurs with earlier findings by the U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and others that violence in Afghanistan began to level off in the first months of 2010. But the Pentagon also notes that Afghan insurgents consider 2009, Obama’s first year in office, to be their most successful year because of their ability to increase the level of violence.”

The Pentagon is not ready to give up and believes its counterinsurgency strategy will work in time. I don’t know what the right military decision is but if President Obama gives up on Afghanistan at this point in his Administration, it will encourage foreign nations to view America as weak and treat it as useless.

– DRJ

Dueling Columns on the Arizona Immigration Law.

Filed under: General,Immigration — Jack Dunphy @ 5:36 pm

[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]

Over at Pajamas Media today, I have a piece in support of Arizona’s new immigration law. A sample:

But even as the law’s opponents are revealed as hysterics, it will still be uncomfortable for those police officers who must now go out and enforce it in an atmosphere of intense media scrutiny. You just know the B-rolls are already being shot, the stories are already being written with the details to be filled in later. Someone will be found, some doe-eyed victim will peer out from behind the bars of a jail cell and become the face of the resistance when he is detained on his way either to school, church, or the hospital bedside of his ailing mother who, having been denied a last visit with her cherished son, passes away a broken woman. I see a 3,000-word tear-jerker starting above the fold on page A-1.

The column is presented alongside one from Ruben Navarette Jr., who, as you might have imagined, takes a different view.

Musician Will Owsley Dead

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:00 pm

Musician Will Owsley is dead in an apparent suicide. It’s a real shame. Some of his songs can be heard here, at his MySpace page. In the meantime, enjoy his cover of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run,” a good introduction to his sound:

He will be missed.

Obama’s Katrina (Updated x3)

Filed under: Environment,Obama — DRJ @ 1:42 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Doug Ross posts the pictorial timeline of Obama’s response to the BP oil spill. He concludes the post with this statement:

“Perhaps if the oil breached the Louisiana levees, then caught on fire, and then then turned New Orleans into a Dresden-like inferno, the President would stop campaigning for a couple of days and actually pay attention to his own, personal Katrina. Even The New York Times has noticed, decrying the President’s lackadaisical response. But I’m guessing that somehow, someway, it’s all President Bush’s fault.”

Offshore drilling and exploration is the responsibility of the federal government and the drilling companies. Thus, unlike Katrina where the responsibilities were spread among local, state, and federal governments, the Obama Administration’s Department of the Interior and its Minerals Management Service are directly and solely responsible for offshore energy regulation and management:

“The Minerals Management Service (MMS), a bureau within the Department of Interior, regulates and manages the development of energy and mineral resources in the Federal waters off the nation’s shores. MMS also collects, audits and distributes all energy and mineral revenues from these federal waters as well as from energy and mineral resources on both Federal and Indian lands.”

From the Minerals Management Service website:

“The OCS Lands Act requires the Department of the Interior (DOI) to prepare a 5-year program that specifies the size, timing and location of areas to be assessed for Federal offshore natural gas and oil leasing. It is the role of DOI to ensure that the U.S. government receives fair market value for acreage made available for leasing and that any oil and gas activities conserve resources, operate safely, and take maximum steps to protect the environment.”

That’s why the MMS has an offshore Oil Spill Program including specific provisions relating to Oil Spill Responses:

“An effective response is an amalgam of orchestrated actions by private and/or public entities that have been trained to control, contain, and clean up an oil spill as quickly and effectively as possible. For all oil spills in navigable waters of the U.S., including State and Federal offshore waters, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port is the designated Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) and has the authority to direct most spill response activities. Based upon the current Memorandum of Agreement between the MMS and USCG – OCS-03: Oil Discharge Planning, Preparedness, and Response (582.90 KB PDF file), however, MMS has primary responsibility related to spill abatement, and facility shutdown and/or startup.”

The MMS is a bureau of the Department of the Interior. President Obama appointed Ken Salazar as DOI Secretary. Attorney Liz Birnbaum is Obama’s Director of the MMS and her Deputy Director is also an attorney, Mary Katherine Ishee. The head of the offshore energy division is a lawyer and political scientist. With that leadership, no wonder part of the federal government’s initial response has been to call the lawyers:

“Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that he is dispatching a team of attorneys from multiple divisions within the Justice Department to New Orleans to meet with the U.S. Attorney and response teams and to monitor the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

– DRJ

UPDATE: BP, the Coast Guard, and the MMS have established a unified command to respond to this incident. Work on a relief well may start as soon as Monday but this MMS safety alert suggests the blowout preventer (BOP) may have failed:

“At the time of the accident, the Deepwater Horizon was operating 52 miles from shore in 4,992 feet of water with a subsea BOP stack. After the Deepwater Horizon sank, ROV’s confirmed that the riser was bent over and still attached to the BOP and that oil is flowing from leaks in the riser above the BOP. Numerous attempts to actuate the BOP have failed.”

BP, as lessee, may be legally responsible for the spill but it probably has contracts and indemnity agreements with its subcontractors. If so, additional focus will be on the companies that designed, manufactured, installed, and operated the blowout preventer or any action that may have kept the blowout preventer from operating.

UPDATE 2: But listen to this Mark Levin interview, which suggests the problem may be a pressure issue.

UPDATE 3: BP official blames failed blowout preventer.

Revisiting the “Plain Language vs. Legislative Intent” Debate in Legal Interpretation

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:30 pm

In a previous post, I posed the following example: Assume you make $50,000 a year. The legislature passes a law imposing a hefty tax on “people making over $100,000 per year.” Since the law does not apply to you, by its plain terms, you do not pay the tax. However, you are convicted after a judge finds irrefutable contemporaneous evidence showing that all legislators who voted for the tax intended to impose it on people making over $10,000 a year. The judge, an “intentionalist,” finds that the intent of the legislature controls, regardless of the plain meaning of the law.

Under the plain language of the law, the tax does not apply to you. Applying the intent of the legislators, it does. Which is the better interpretation?

I argued that the better interpretation in that context is one that looks to the unambiguous plain language of the law, even if that means giving no effect to the legislators’ actual intent — because their intent was not embodied in the plain language of the law.

In its strongest form, this reliance on plain language over intent is called “textualism.” Its most famous adherent is Justice Scalia. Unlike most legal interpreters, who are willing to look to indicators of legislative intent in cases where the plain language is ambiguous, Justice Scalia rejects any reliance on legislative intent that is not reflected in the plain text.

Textualism, Scalia argues in his book “A Matter of Interpretation,” is what undergirds the rule of law: “It is what makes government a government of laws and not of men.” As he says: “We are governed by laws, not by the intentions of legislators.” This survey of Scalia’s textualist approach summarizes the philosophy well: “[I]f the law does not mean what it says and does not say what it means, citizens are left at a loss concerning how they should conduct themselves.” Justice Scalia has put it more succinctly: “Once text is abandoned, one intuition will serve as well as the other.”

“Intentionalists” take a different view. They believe that the intent of the speaker determines the meaning of language. (In the case of interpreting laws and the Constitution, they argue that the intent of the ratifier controls.) In cases where the plain text and the legislative intent diverge, then, they argue that the only linguistically coherent interpretation is one that favors legislative intent over the plain meaning of the text.

Jeff Goldstein recently fleshed out the intentionalist argument in this context, in an interesting post addressing the interface of intentionalism and legal interpretation. His post is lengthy and thoughtful, and while there is much to agree with, I disagree with some parts of it as well. Ultimately, I think his approach provides an unsatisfactory answer to the example at the head of this post, because it privileges an unexpressed legislative intent over the plain text of the law, thus holding citizens responsible for violating provisions that don’t even appear in the law books.

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