CURRENT NEWS and EVENTS, OPINION and FEATURES
We cover issues of the week from some of the most recognized sources, but always from a PURPLE perspective. And we invite discussion of the same sort.
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Wall Street Journal
In politics and on college campuses civility is fracturing, but Paula Cohen suggests a solution: Seminar courses with a discussion format that encourages debate and respect. We're not sure that will curb the identity-politics furies, but it's still a good idea.
The Seminar Course Can Save Civility
When well run, it combines free speech with a safe space.
By Paula Marantz Cohen
The only college courses I remember taking happened around a seminar table. I became an intellectual at those tables by talking about ideas in an intimate, authentic way. Now, I teach seminar courses, and when I walk into the classroom for the first time in the term, I am always moved by the faces around the table, by their distinctiveness and willingness to open their minds to me—and each other.
The seminar format is sometimes called the “Harkness table,” derived from a gift by Edward Harkness to Phillips Exeter Academy in 1930. It is associated with liberal arts schools that pride themselves on small classes and seasoned teachers. And yet the seminar is not a luxury. It is fundamental to the education of resilient, thinking citizens. This is especially true in the era of isolating social media.
To put this in the terms of the present moment: The seminar course combines free speech with a safe space. It reconciles two ideas that have recently come into conflict within academia.
Free speech used to be a sacrosanct, nonpartisan value but has lately been subject to qualification in some left-leaning quarters. The assumption is that certain kinds of speech and even singular words can inflict psychic pain. Establishing a safe space is a physical response to this apparent threat. The theory goes that college students can't learn if they feel vulnerable or experience mental discomfort.
If free speech is now seen by the left as an excuse for hateful and hurtful speech, safe spaces are decried by the right as excuses to shut down disagreement and encourage liberal coddling.
The seminar reconciles these warring values. When well-run, it is both free and safe. In this setting, students feel empowered to speak their minds. A good teacher can discern from the faces around the table the tremor of disagreement or the blossoming of an idea, and can tease out a thought that, no matter how initially incoherent or divergent from a mainstream view, can be clarified and discussed with civility. Once encouraged to say what they think, students tend to remain engaged. They grow more comfortable and more fearless, as well as more willing to change their minds.
My canvassing of former students shows that the courses they remember most are those that happened around a table. They say that these courses taught them to see themselves as people with ideas, as well as interested in and open to the ideas of others.
We respond to people around a seminar table as we would to those around a dinner table. Experiencing this intellectual intimacy improves our judgment and makes us more humane. A seminar is a safe enough space to allow for free speech and civil disagreement. It models encounters that can spill from the classroom into life.
Ms. Cohen is a dean and English professor at Drexel University.
Wall Street Journal
Iran Takes Hard Line to Keep Protests Down
People describe authorities demanding money to return bodies of their children killed by security forces
By Sune Engel Rasmussen
Days after 32-year-old Hamid Rasouli joined demonstrations over Iran's troubled economy, he was killed by security forces, according to a friend. They handed over his body to his family with two demands: Pay nearly $8,000 and say your son was a member of a state militia who died at the hands of protesters.
Mr. Rasouli's family put a lien on their house to pay for his body and were allowed only a small funeral in the presence of security forces and a government cleric, said Behzad Mehrani, an Iranian in the U.S. who has known the family for decades.
The treatment of Mr. Rasouli's family couldn't be independently verified, but it fits a pattern of intimidation by Iranian authorities trying to stop a resumption of protests that rippled through the country before they were quashed, according to activists and Iran experts.
An information blackout during the protests made casualty numbers hard to verify, but Amnesty International says at least 161 protesters were killed. The Iranian-based opposition website Kaleme said at least 366 people were killed. Iran's government has called the numbers exaggerated.
Such tactics may only amplify anger among some Iranians—particularly the young—as discontent over lack of political and social freedoms help intensify a cycle of unrest, analysts say.
The repression, which included shutting down the internet, “makes people think, is this the kind of society we want to live in?” said Amir Handjani, a fellow with the Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning national security organization. “It forces people to re-evaluate the social contract they have with the government.”
While Iran saw a long stretch of calm following the Green Movement protests, anger and dissent over the economy have become more frequent in recent years, in turn sparking more brutal repression by the government.
In 2017 and 2018, protesters across the country decrying poor economic conditions and government corruption were also met with violence. Authorities say they are fighting rioters supported by foreign powers.
The trigger behind the recent protests was the sudden removal of subsidies on gasoline that dramatically raised prices—but the discontent is deeper, as a sense of lost hope and political paralysis drive the dissent.
Mr. Rasouli, who lost his job as a factory worker, was struggling to make ends meet as a cabdriver. The skyrocketing gas price sent him out into the street.
“He didn't make enough money, not even for a simple life,” Mr. Mehrani, who fled Iran after spending two months in jail during the 2009 protests, said.
The internet blackout, intended to prevent protests from spreading, coupled with the price increase likely helped fuel the protests, as both moves affected nearly all Iranians and cost local businesses significant income, Kevan Harris, a sociologist at the University of California with expertise in Iran, said.
Authorities have arrested nearly 7,000 protesters, a hard-line lawmaker said last week, including eight who authorities said were linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Iran routinely arrests Iranian citizens on such allegations without providing evidence.
Officials also said they arrested more than 200 “ringleaders” accused of conspiring with Islamic State terrorists, exiled opposition groups and Kurdish militants to foment unrest. They have offered no evidence to support such claims.
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Wall Street Journal
Let Bosnia's Scars Be a Reminder
Its not-so-distant ethnic clash shows the moral necessity of intervention to help the helpless.
By Andy Kessler
The most dangerous concert you didn't attend happened 25 years ago this Saturday. The venue was a small community center in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a city under siege from 1992-96 during the Yugoslav Wars. Serbs controlled the hills that surround most of the city. United Nations peacekeeping troops controlled the airport and did, well, not much. And yes, this was the conflict during which Hillary Clinton falsely remembered “landing under sniper fire.”
Someone from the U.N. thought a concert would lift spirits in Sarajevo and asked the Rolling Stones to perform. When they passed, a heavy-metal fan in the U.N., Maj. Martin Morris, booked Motörhead, who abruptly canceled. Mr. Morris then contacted Bruce Dickinson, lead singer for Iron Maiden, (of the classic “Run to the Hills”) who was then touring as a solo act, along with a few backup players. Mr. Dickinson immediately answered, “Yeah, why not.” This is all covered in an excellent documentary, “Scream for Me Sarajevo.” It's worth watching even if your musical tastes run toward show tunes. (By the way, U2 also played in Sarajevo, but in 1997, after the siege had ended.)
When the helicopter Mr. Dickinson planned to take from Split, Croatia, was attacked shortly before the trip, the band instead loaded into a delivery truck painted with a Road Runner cartoon. Armed with beer and vodka, they drove up Mount Igman, crossing near Serbian lines in the middle of the night to get to a U.N. checkpoint, then transferred to armed personnel carriers for the short ride into Sarajevo.
The city buzzed with anticipation. Even though two mortar rounds hit the venue's entrance earlier in the day, the Dec. 14 show was a huge success. “The gig was immense, intense and probably the biggest show in the world at that moment for the audience and for us,” Mr. Dickinson recalled. “That the world didn't really know didn't matter. It changed the way I viewed life, death and other human beings.”
The bass player, Chris Dale, remembers being asked by a local soldier if they brought any drugs with them. Mr. Dale told him no, drugs are bad for you. The local responded that his life expectancy was pretty short already. Such was the desperation in a city under siege.
Tourists now flock to Central European highlights like Prague, Budapest and Dubrovnik. My suggestion: Get off the beaten path. My son and I visited Sarajevo a few years ago. Like Jerusalem, it's the home and crossroads of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. But 23 years after the war ended, the city is still literally scarred.
Many of the tall buildings have blackened holes in them. The bobsled run from the 1984 Winter Olympics is a graffiti-covered mess. Entire blocks along the river, a short ride from where Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914, are riddled with bullet holes and the remains of mortar fire. The Old Jewish Cemetery, not 100 yards up the hill, still has overturned headstones, from gunmen using them as cover. All around the city you find Sarajevo Roses: spots where mortar shells exploded that have been painted red to look like flowers. This isn't the Roman ruins, it's destruction from a war a mere 25 years ago in a city that still can't afford to clean it up.
We took the siege tour. We were driven up into the surrounding hills, parked on the side of the road, and walked 10 yards to a bluff looking down on the city. Soldiers would sit here and take shots at people walking in town, along what's known as Sniper Alley. We heard the story of a Russian writer who joined the soldiers, drinking all day, shooting into the city, and then writing about it for a magazine. This was depravity.
We ended up in the siege tunnel. The only way in or out of Sarajevo without crossing Serbian lines was by the U.N.-controlled airport, and the fields around it were mined. So the Bosnians dug a tunnel under the airport, starting from an innocent looking house on the edge of Bosnian-controlled territory. This house was bombarded with mortars but never destroyed. The Bosnians smuggled in food and fuel, eventually putting in railroad-like tracks to push carts of food and supplies.
The roots of conflict first emerged in 1980 when strongman Josip Broz Tito died, after which Yugoslavia disintegrated—literally Balkanized. Ethnic grudges escalated. The 1990s will be remembered in part for this horrific genocidal war, along with the one in Rwanda. Ethnic persecution persists in Syria, Myanmar and China's Xinjiang province. The U.S. and its allies should not only remember each past example but need to fight outbreaks today and beyond.
Diplomacy and sanctions go only so far. Whether it's no-fly zones, more teeth for U.N. peacekeepers or U.S. feet on the ground, one lesson of Sarajevo is not to sit back and lob cruise missiles, but to aid helpless civilians—a moral obligation. In 1970 I met my mother's uncle, who left Eastern Europe in 1945, and noticed the numbers tattooed on his arm, a reminder of the consequences of inaction. Scream indeed.
Pelosi's hidden message to Trump
By Richard Galant
In Shakespeare's tragedy, the armored ghost of Hamlet's father stalks the ramparts of the royal castle, with a face cast "more in sorrow than in anger."
Such was the expression of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she walked to the podium in front of American flags Thursday to announce that Democrats would draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
She invoked the Declaration of Independence and complimented her colleagues "for their somber approach" to a process that Pelosi herself had long resisted.
Yet the nation saw another facet of the Speaker's character just hours later when a reporter asked, "Do you hate the President, Madam Speaker?"
She shot back, "I don't hate anybody," citing her Catholic upbringing and warned, "Don't mess with me."
Those words, wrote Pelosi biographer Elaine Povich, "emphasized that she is powerful and cannot be taken lightly when it comes to describing her motives -- particularly where they concern the guideposts of her religion." She added, "when she was a child, Pelosi has said, her mother thought it might be nice if she became a nun. But Pelosi laughingly suggested she would like it better if she could become a priest, since they had all the power. Exactly."
Now she does have all the power -- at least in writing the next chapter of the impeachment story.
"Support for removing Trump from office has increased in the last two months, thanks to Pelosi's methodical staging of tightly-managed public hearings designed to make a public, easy-to-understand case that Trump has abused power, obstructed Congress and violated his oath of office," noted Errol Louis.
The speaker's approach, he wrote, is driven by a shrewd sense of politics: "It's safe to say that Pelosi does not get out of bed in the morning without considering the politics of putting on her slippers."
Julian Zelizer observed that "with a firm hand and clear vision, Speaker Pelosi has done something that no one else seemed to be able to accomplish. She has seized back the public square from the Trump White House."
But in Scott Jennings' view, the impeachment juggernaut is no surprise to Trump's loyalists; it only draws them closer to him. "It's true that Pelosi had no choice, although it's not because of the Constitution," he wrote. "What have Democrats wanted more than anything since Trump's election? The answer is obvious: to undo the 2016 election by any means necessary. It's a political itch that had to be scratched, and Pelosi could hold off her tormented partisans no longer." Having liberal Democrats, law professors and world leaders scorning and laughing at Trump, is just what he courted when he was elected to disrupt the elite, said Jennings.
Is there enough evidence to impeach Trump? We asked two expert lawyers, Michael Zeldin and Robert Ray, to trade views.
Dr. Phil Show
Self-Described ‘Pedophile Hunter' Says, ‘I Love Doing What I Do'
Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's show draws on his 25 years of experience in psychology, sociology and observation. Beginning his TV career as the resident expert on human behavior on Oprah Winfrey's daily talk show, Dr. Phil continues to deal with real issues in his blunt style.
A two-part Dr. Phil series airs Wednesday and Thursday.
PART 1 - Tony says he's a plumber by day and a “pedophile hunter” by night. The founder of Team Loyalty Makes You Family, on Facebook, says he's a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and live-streams his encounters with people who he believes are child predators.
“Law enforcement is a joke when it comes to this,” asserts Tony, insisting that “there's a problem with the system,” and he's doing what the police won't.
He says he both agrees and disagrees with some of the methods being used by others.
“I love doing what I do. It's almost like being a superhero,” he says.
During the show, Dr. Phil asks, "Do you worry about the consequences of public shaming?"
This episode of Dr. Phil airs Wednesday.
PART 2 - Josh claims that the group he founded, Predator Hunters USA, one of a growing number of civilian “pedophile hunter” groups across the country, has used online decoys to expose upward of 70 alleged child predators in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa since forming in October 2018.
“I've been threatened before, and I'll be threatened again, I'm sure, but the predators' threats and my wife's concerns are not going to stop me,” says the father of three, adding, “I would rather die than see another kid molested.”
The 30-year-old says he was a victim of a child predator and is willing to risk his own life to save someone else.
Watch the video to see what happens when Josh live-streams his confrontation with an alleged predator to Facebook.
This episode of Dr. Phil airs Thursday.
Editor's note: Predator Hunters USA no longer appears to be an active group on social media.
Trump's very unhappy trip (to Europe)
If Trump's trip to London was scripted to divert attention away from the President's worries back home, it was a complete failure. Even before he landed in London, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, normally a Trump ally, "made it clear he would rather keep the deeply unpopular Trump at arm's length," wrote Frida Ghitis. "Trump has become politically radioactive."
At the event marking NATO's 70th anniversary, Trump "clashed with French President Emmanuel Macron and appeared to be mocked by Canada's Justin Trudeau and other NATO leaders in an embarrassing video," wrote Aaron David Miller. The upshot: Trump canceled his closing press conference and headed home.
If Trump needed cheering up after the trip, he could take heart in a poll that found that 53% of Republicans think he's a better president than the first Republican to win that office, Abraham Lincoln.
The finding is evidence of how firmly today's Republicans identify with Trump, but not a serious historical comparison. "Though Lincoln and Trump are both nominally Republicans, the party of 1860 and the party of 2019 have nothing in common but the name," wrote Fred Kaplan. "Lincoln was pro-immigration; he favored a balanced budget; he abhorred deal-making other than as constructive compromise; he believed that it was the job of the president to implement, not to make or to disregard, the law."
Fractured States, Part III - OPINION
CNN Opinion's 'Fractured States of America' series is concluding with a deep look at solutions to the political divide. Yaffa Fredrick described two immigrants living in North Carolina who approach issues from opposite ends of the political spectrum. "Rremida Shkoza, a progressive Democrat, did not understand how another immigrant could be a Republican," she wrote. "Then she met Julia Song, a Brazilian immigrant to the United States, at an intimate event designed to bring people of opposing political backgrounds together to discuss some of the most controversial issues of the day."
"Song was a proud Trump supporter, who believed that several of the President's immigration policies were necessary first steps in reforming a broken and backlogged immigration system. Shkoza was quite moved by Song's experience -- and while neither she nor Song switched political sides of the debate, they acknowledged the many layers of complexity to it. Shkoza also believed she had found a pathway forward."
Garry Kasparov: Echoes of Soviet unreality - OPINION
Garry Kasparov, who became the youngest world chess champion in 1985 and is now a pro-democracy activist, recalled the country of his birth, the Soviet Union.
"Reality was whatever the Party put out on the nightly news, or in the official newspapers, Pravda, which means 'Truth', and Izvestia, which means 'News.' It was increasingly obvious back then, even to communist true believers, that what we were being told didn't match the world we saw around us. As the joke went, 'there is no news in the truth and no truth in the news.'"
An exile now in the United States, Kasparov hears uncomfortable echoes today of the Soviet attitude to truth: "President Donald Trump and his Republican defenders in Congress have followed his lead in declaring war on observed reality.
"Critical reports are 'fake news,' journalists reporting the facts are 'enemies of the people,' a phrase of Vladimir Lenin's, debunked conspiracy theories are repeated, and public servants testifying under oath about documented events are dismissed as 'Never Trumpers'. Unable to change the facts, Trump and his supporters instead try to shift the debate into an alternate universe where the truth is whatever they say it is today."
There is only one truth and there cannot be separate Republican and Democratic forms of reality, Kasparov wrote. "Trump is finally facing the music, and that must begin with everyone facing the facts."
FUTURE / TECH
The Mystery at the Center of the Solar System
A spacecraft has finally gotten close enough to the sun to gather clues about some lingering questions.
By MARINA KOREN
For a little NASA spacecraft, the weather outside is frightful.
The Parker Solar Probe is on a mission toward the sun. The spacecraft has been exposed to scorching temperatures and intense sunlight as it draws closer with every loop around. Eventually, Parker will glide through the star's outer atmosphere and feel the toastiness of nearly 2 million degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 million degrees Celsius).
Parker is dressed appropriately for the journey. It wears a thick, custom-made shield to protect its scientific instruments and systems, and tubes with flowing water to cool itself down. Inside, it is a cozy 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). Since it set out last summer, Parker has made three sweltering passes of the sun, with many more still to come in the next five years. And its findings are already surprising scientists back home.
One of the earliest scientific discoveries about the sun was also the most significant: The Earth was not the center of the universe, but orbited the sun. In the centuries since Copernicus redrew the cosmic map, scientists have traveled closer to the heart of the solar system, first with telescopes, then with satellites and spacecraft. They learned about the nuclear fusion that powers our star and countless others and, with the discovery of exoplanets, realized that many stars could be someone else's sun. Today, our understanding of the sun and its subtle mechanisms is more sophisticated than ever before, but it remains incomplete.
To ponder the unknowns feels like sitting with an inquisitive toddler. Why is the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, so hot? Where does the solar wind come from? Why does it shoot out of the corona like that? What makes the sun flare up sometimes, shooting even more excited particles out into space? These are some of the questions that scientists hope Parker can answer before its mission ends in 2025, with a fiery plunge right into the sun.
NASA released the first batch of results this week, published across four papers in Nature. The findings come from measurements of the corona, which is, remarkably, hotter than the surface itself. The corona extends millions of miles from the surface into space. The region is only visible to the naked eye during a solar eclipse, when the moon casts a shadow on the Earth and blocks out the sun, leaving only a golden ring hanging in a darkened sky.
The corona unleashes powerful streams of high-energy particles, known as the solar wind, which can be felt all across the solar system, and far beyond Pluto. The data from the Parker probe show that the solar wind is far more turbulent near the sun than in our own vicinity, tens of millions of miles away. The wind drags the sun's magnetic field out into space, and even bends the field enough for magnetic forces to completely flip around for a few minutes at a time, pointing back at the sun itself instead of into space. The researchers weren't expecting the strength of this effect, as well as how often it seems to occur.
Scientists also found that shifts in the sun's magnetic field speed up the particles flowing away from the sun much faster than any of their models had predicted. Astronomers have spent decades probing the depths of countless distant stars in the cosmos, some of them billions of light-years away, but their own still keeps secrets from them.
Scientists haven't been able to make such close-up detections with instruments on Earth, or even with earlier missions to the sun, which never got as close. For studying the sun, proximity is everything. “Imagine that we live halfway down a waterfall, and the water is always going past us, and we want to know, what is the source of the waterfall up at the top?” says Stuart Bale, a scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, and the lead on a Parker instrument that examines the solar wind by measuring magnetic fields. “Is there an iceberg melting up there? Is there a sprinkler system? Is there a lake, a hole in the ground? And it's very hard to tell from halfway down. So what Parker has done is got us closer than ever to the sun.”
At every close approach, the Parker probe will also get closer to pulling off one of the toughest feats of robotic space exploration. It sounds counterintuitive, but it's actually harder to reach the sun than it is to leave the solar system altogether. The sun's gravity is always tugging at everything around it, from giant planets to tiny moons, but those objects are also looping around the sun at great speeds, which keeps them from falling toward it. “To get to Mars, you only need to increase slightly your orbital speed. If you need to get to the sun, you basically have to completely slow down your current momentum,” Yanping Guo, the mission-design and navigation manager for the Parker Solar Probe, explained to me.
No existing rocket technology is powerful enough to cancel out the Earth's motion like that, so the Parker probe is getting an assist from other planets. The spacecraft has been flying way out to Venus and looping around, trimming its orbit each time to shed some of the Earth's momentum and bring itself closer to the center of the solar system.
The mission is named for Eugene Parker, the American astrophysicist who first described the dynamics of solar wind in 1958. Few believed his theory until NASA started sending robotic spacecraft deep into the solar system a few years later, and their instruments felt the breeze. There's no doubt now, and robotic missions have followed the wind as far as they can go. In 2013, one of the Voyager probes, which have traveled farther than any other spacecraft, detected particles in the solar wind mixing with cooler particles of interstellar space—where the weather is a different kind of frightful.
Whale shark approaches Malaysian fishing boat for 'help'; fishermen oblige
KUALA LUMPUR — Sharks and fishermen aren’t known to be bosom buddies, but representatives of both species developed a sort of ‘finship’ recently.
A video of a whale shark approaching a fishing boat off East Malaysia and appealing to the fishermen onboard for help has surfaced on the Internet and gone viral.
The whale shark — a filter feeder that poses no danger to humans — had a loop of rope caught around its midsection, which was presumably causing it considerable discomfort.
The 1-minute-and 54-second video shows the whale shark swimming towards the boat and staying next to it to allow the excited fishermen to remove the rope.
One man gently lowered a pole with a hook at the end to grab hold of the rope. After several tries, he managed to snag it while also drawing the whale shark closer to the boat.
Once within arm’s length, another fisherman produced a cleaver, which he used to cut through the rope until it was completely severed and came away easily from the whale shark’s body.
Thankful to be freed of its lasso, the whale shark drifts away — but not before swishing its tail on the surface of the water as an expression of thanks to his saviours.
The fishermen are all heard saying “Bye!” with one man remarking on how “happy” the giant animal had become.
LAW ENFORCEMENT / CRIME
Wall Street Journal
New Jersey Kosher Store Target of Deadly Shooting
Authorities say a police officer was among those killed during a gunfight that started at a cemetery
By Ben Chapman, Tyler Blint-Welsh and Joseph De Avila
JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Two gunmen went on an hourslong shooting rampage Tuesday, targeting a Jewish grocery store and getting into a firefight with police that killed four people, including a police officer, as well as the two suspects, officials said.
The shootings began at the Bay View Cemetery in Jersey City when Jersey City Police Detective Joseph “Joe” Seals confronted the suspects and was shot and killed by them, officials said. The suspects, two men believed to be dressed in black and armed with higher-powered rifles, then fled to the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket several blocks away, officials said.
The shootout at the grocery store left three bystanders dead in addition to the two gunmen, police said.
After responding to a report at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday of a shooting at the grocery store, police took heavy fire for hours from the suspects inside the store, officials said.
Police called for assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state police and police departments from surrounding municipalities.
Authorities said they recovered a stolen U-Haul truck containing an incendiary device, which was being examined by the bomb squad.
Mayor Steven Fulop said on Twitter Tuesday night that based on an initial investigation, authorities believe the shooters targeted the grocery store.
“Due to an excess of caution, the community may see additional police resources in the days/weeks ahead,” Mr. Fulop said. “We have no indication there are any further threats.”
Earlier Tuesday, Jersey City Director of Public Safety James Shea said there was no evidence the shooting was an act of terrorism, and officials said investigators had yet to determine a motive.
“The investigation will take weeks, maybe months,” Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly said. “The crime scene is very extensive.”
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Wall Street Journal
Gunman in Pensacola Shooting Got Weapon Under Legal Exception
Navy grounds 300 Saudi student pilots being trained by U.S. at three Florida bases
By Alex Leary and Nancy Youssef
WASHINGTON—Exceptions under federal firearms law allowed the suspect in an attack at a Florida military base to legally buy a handgun in the U.S. despite his Saudi citizenship, officials said.
Mohammed Alshamrani was able to buy the 9mm Glock 45 because he had obtained a state hunting license, which is one of the exceptions to a law that normally prohibits people admitted to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa from possessing or owning a firearm, the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Jacksonville, Fla., said Tuesday.
State officials in Florida are now calling such exceptions “loopholes” that must be closed to help prevent similar incidents in the future.
Alshamrani killed three people Friday in the attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola before he was shot dead by a local sheriff's deputy.
Defense officials said Tuesday that about 300 Saudi students training at three Florida bases had been directed by the Navy not to fly as an investigation continued into Friday's attack. The suspension by the Navy affects 140 Saudi students at Naval Air Station Pensacola, as well as 35 students at Whiting Field, Fla., and 128 at Mayport Field, Fla, officials said.
The U.S. Air Force said it also had suspended flying operations for 67 Saudi students undergoing Air Force training programs.
“Given the traumatic events, we feel it best to keep our Royal Saudi Air Force students off the flying schedule for a short time,” an Air Force spokesman said. “The safety and well-being of all our aircrew, including our international students, is a top priority.”
Senior administration officials said later the Pentagon is suspending instruction for all Saudi students involved in flight school or other operational training as it conducts a review of security vetting for all international military education and training programs.
There are about 850 Saudi military students training across the various U.S. military branches. Under the new order, any student taking part only in classroom work won't be affected, officials said.
Acting Navy Secretary Tom Modly and the Navy's top enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Smith, visited Pensacola on Tuesday, the Navy said.
Alshamrani, a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, came to the U.S. in 2017 for a three-year U.S. military-training program associated with Saudi arms purchases. U.S. authorities are probing the Pensacola shooting as an act of terrorism and are trying to determine whether Alshamrani was radicalized during a trip back to the kingdom that began late last year. His social media is also being scrutinized.
Under federal law, people admitted to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa—in the country temporarily for study, short-term work or medical treatment—can't posses or own a firearm, unless they qualify under an exception.
The exceptions include foreign residents who hold a valid hunting license or permit, those admitted for lawful hunting or sporting purposes, certain official representatives of a foreign government, or a foreign law-enforcement officer of a friendly foreign government entering the U.S. on official law-enforcement business.
Alshamrani obtained a hunting license through the Florida fish-and-wildlife agency, and it was effective beginning July 11, 2019, an agency spokeswoman said. The shooter bought the pistol from a licensed dealer in Florida on July 20, the FBI said.
“The exception under which the #PensacolaShooter qualified to purchase a firearm was a valid Florida hunting license, but he may have qualified under other exceptions as well,” the FBI office in Jacksonville said on Twitter.
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|New York Times
Class insult preceded attack at Florida base
The Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three sailors last week in Pensacola, where he was a visiting student, had filed a complaint against one of his instructors for calling him a derogatory nickname.
According to a summary of the complaint that was viewed by The Times, the trainee, Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, said he was “infuriated” after the instructor referred to him in April as “Porn Stash,” an apparent reference to Lieutenant Alshamrani's mustache. There has been nothing to suggest a connection to Friday's attack, in which the gunman was shot and killed.
Yesterday: As the authorities searched for a motive, the F.B.I. officially characterized the investigation as a terrorism inquiry. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon would review screening procedures but would maintain the training programs for foreigners.
The victims: Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23; Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, were at the start of their Navy careers. Read more about them here.
Dept of Justice (NJ)
Three Men Arrested in $722 Million Cryptocurrency Fraud Scheme
NEWARK, N.J. – Three men were arrested today in connection with a cryptocurrency mining scheme that defrauded investors of $722 million, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Matthew Brent Goettsche, 37, of Lafayette, Colorado, and Jobadiah Sinclair Weeks, 38, of Arvada, Colorado, are charged by indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and Goettsche, Weeks, and Joseph Frank Abel, 49, of Camarillo, California, are charged by indictment with conspiracy to offer and sell unregistered securities. Goettsche was arrested in Colorado, Weeks in Florida, and Abel in California. All three are scheduled to have their initial appearances in the districts of their arrests. Two defendants remain at large and their identities remain under seal.
“The indictment describes the defendants' use of the complex world of cryptocurrency to take advantage of unsuspecting investors,” U.S. Attorney Carpenito said. “What they allegedly did amounts to little more than a modern, high-tech Ponzi scheme that defrauded victims of hundreds of millions of dollars. Working with our law enforcement partners here and across the country, we will ensure that these scammers are held to account for their crimes.”
“Those arrested today are accused of deploying elaborate tactics to lure thousands of victims with promises of large returns on their investments in a bitcoin mining pool, an advanced method of profiting on cryptocurrency,” Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office said. “The defendants allegedly made hundreds of millions of dollars by continuing to recruit new investors over several years while spending victims' money lavishly.”
“Today's indictment alleges the defendants were involved in a sophisticated Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars that preyed upon investors all over the world,” John R. Tafur, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Newark Field Office, said. “This was a classic con game with a virtual twist; false promises of large returns for investing in the mining of Bitcoin. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, including the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement, to investigate and bring to justice cyber criminals.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From April 2014 through December 2019, the defendants operated BitClub Network, a fraudulent scheme that solicited money from investors in exchange for shares of purported cryptocurrency mining pools and rewarded investors for recruiting new investors. Goettsche, Weeks, and others conspired to solicit investments in BitClub Network by providing false and misleading figures that BitClub investors were told were “bitcoin mining earnings,” purportedly generated by BitClub Network's bitcoin mining pool. Goettsche discussed with his conspirators that their target audience would be “dumb” investors, referred to them as “sheep,” and said he was “building this whole model on the backs of idiots.” Goettsche directed others to manipulate the figures displayed as “mining earnings” during the course of the conspiracy.
For example, in February 2015, Goettsche directed another conspirator to “bump up the daily mining earnings starting today by 60%,” to which his conspirator warned “that is not sustainable, that is ponzi teritori [sic] and fast cash-out ponzi . . . but sure.” In September 2017, Goettsche sent an email to another conspirator in which he suggested that Bitclub Network “[d]rop mining earnings significantly starting now” so that he could “retire RAF!!! (rich as fuck).” Weeks sent an email in June 2017 to Goettsche and another conspirator in which he remarked that BitClub selling shares in BitClub and then not using the money to purchase mining equipment was “not right.” Goettsche, Weeks, and others obtained the equivalent of at least $722 million from BitClub Network investors.
Goettsche, Weeks, Abel, and others also conspired to sell BitClub Network shares – which were securities – notwithstanding that BitClub Network did not register the shares with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Weeks and Abel created videos and traveled around the United States and the world to promote BitClub Network. In one video, a conspirator espoused that BitClub Network was “the most transparent company in the history of the world that I've ever seen.” In another video, Abel assured investors that BitClub Network was “too big to fail.”
The wire fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000. The conspiracy to sell unregistered securities charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents and task force officers of the FBI's Los Angeles Division's West Covina Resident Agency, under the direction of Acting Assistant Director in Charge Delacourt; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John R. Tafur in Newark; and the IRS Los Angeles Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner, with the investigation leading to today's charges.
Anyone who believes they may be a victim may visit www.justice.gov/usao-nj/bitclub or the Department of Justice's large case website www.justice.gov/largecases. There, victims can find more information about the case, including a questionnaire for victims to fill out and submit.
The government is represented by Unit Chief David W. Feder and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony P. Torntore and Jamie L. Hoxie, of the Cybercrime Unit, and Unit Chief Sarah Devlin of the Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
from Matthew Reilly, Dept of Justice (NJ)
Office of Public Affairs
Dept of Justice (CA)
Inland Empire Man Arrested Pursuant to Federal Indictment Alleging International Methamphetamine Trafficking Operation
By Nicola T. Hanna - United States Attorney, Central District of California
LOS ANGELES – An Ontario man was arrested today for allegedly playing a key role in an international drug-trafficking organization that was responsible for shipping more than 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine across the globe.
Jorge Gomez Torres, 66, was named in an eight-count indictment that was unsealed this afternoon when he arrived at United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles for an arraignment. The indictment charges Torres with three counts – one count of drug trafficking and two counts of money laundering. Torres pleaded not guilty to the charges. A January 28 trial date has been scheduled in this matter.
Torres – who was also known as “the Filipino,” among other aliases – allegedly coordinated drug shipments to the Philippines, and from there methamphetamine was illegally imported into the United States. On Christmas Day in 2013, law enforcement seized approximately 84 kilograms (185 pounds) of methamphetamine from a rooster ranch Torres owned in the Philippines.
In shipping the methamphetamine around the globe, the criminal organization employed a variety of means to conceal the contraband. Members of the conspiracy used shell companies to obtain shipping documents that were used to send drugs to countries such as the Philippines to Australia. The methamphetamine was often hidden in machinery, including an industrial asphalt roller that was recovered in Manzanillo, Mexico and computer equipment that was seized in Memphis, Tennessee.
The indictment charges a total of 17 defendants, most of whom are fugitives believed to be in Mexico.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine carries a statutory maximum sentence of life and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in federal prison. The money laundering offenses each carry a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
This matter is being investigated by the DEA. This investigation is being conducted with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander B. Schwab of the Major Frauds Section and Ben Balding of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section.
from Thom Mrozek, Dept of Justice (CA)
Director of Media Relations
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