Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
DID FBI FOIL ITS FBI BOMB PLOT?
Did the FBI foil a teenager’s terrorist bomb plot at the Portland Christmas tree lighting last Friday, or did the federal agents who contacted, trained, funded, equipped and directed the teen to press the button on the bomb they built and placed for him simply foil their own sophisticated “bomb” plot and then hype it in the media?
That question may be left for a jury to decide, if an impartial jury can be found after a weekend of FBI-fed wall-to-wall coverage of the “terrorist.” On Monday, the 19-year-old Mohamed Mohamud finally got an attorney who promptly accused the FBI of “entrapment” and said government agents were “grooming” his client for the attack and orchestrated his arrest with a “press release” affidavit that was “timed for maximum publicity.”
The FBI fervently denies that its operation meets the legal definition of entrapment or that it has sought to try the case in the media.
But the gray area of how far the government can go in entrapping citizens in crimes has raised legal, ethical and public policy debate for decades. Can the government entrap liberals who download rock songs illegally? Can it entrap Tea Party activists attracted by easy tax evasion? Would an FBI agent put in for “foolproof” illegal overtime? How about testing if conservative Christians would press a remote “bomb” button on an abortion clinic?
The FBI has long known that it must tread carefully in entrapping citizens. After the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a federal case for entrapment in 1992, the FBI circulated legal advice in its FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in April 1993.
“The most convincing evidence of predisposition will typically occur during the initial government contacts, which officers should carefully document to successfully defeat the entrapment defense,” the FBI bulletin wrote.
In the Portland case, the FBI claims that it lost the recording of its initial meeting with Mohamud due to a technical problem. The FBI did not explain in the 36-page affidavit it sent to the media how it failed to carefully document the key initial meeting by at least having a small backup recorder, widely available in stores for only a few dollars.
The bulletin also states that agents should avoid using “persistent” techniques in an operation. According to the FBI, federal agents persisted in pursuing Mohamud for six months.
Lack of prior criminal activity can also figure in entrapment cases, according to the bulletin. Mohamud lacked a criminal record, but police released documents to the media with an anonymous allegation of date rape at OSU.
The FBI bulletin notes an entrapment case the government lost due to “outrageous” unconstitutional conduct, when agents supplied and built and did the bulk of the manufacturing and provided the expertise for a laboratory creating illegal drugs. The FBI did most of the manufacturing and provided the expertise and funding and equipment for the building of the Portland dummy bomb, according to the FBI.
But other tests in the FBI bulletin appear to fit the FBI’s allegations against Mohamud that he was not reluctant to kill families gathered at the Christmas tree lighting. In many ways, the federal government has wide discretion in choosing which citizens to entrap, according to the FBI. The 1993 bulletin states that one of the few limits on FBI entrapment is “limited resources.”
The Oregon FBI appears to have nearly unlimited resources to pursue cases it chooses to label “terrorism.” During the Bush administration the FBI deployed dozens of agents for years to pursue acts of property damage by environmental radicals.
In the end, the public may never know whether a teenager would have really tried to kill all those people without the FBI helping. In the face of life sentences, many such terrorism suspects take plea bargains and never go before a jury. — Alan Pittman
GET THE LEAD OUT AND TOXICS, TOO
It’s the holiday season and the Environmental Protection Agency is being given the gift of lawsuits for its failure to protect fish and wildlife from toxics.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit Nov. 23 against EPA for failing to regulate toxic lead that the group says poisons eagles, swans, cranes, loons and endangered California condors. A coalition of groups formally petitioned EPA in August to ban lead in bullets and shot for hunting and in fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but EPA recently denied the petition, despite, the CBD says, despite nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the dangers of lead poisoning to animals that eat lead ammunition fragments in carcasses, and to waterfowl that consume lead shot or lost lead fishing sinkers.
It’s been illegal since 1991 to hunt waterfowl with lead shot, but lead is used in hunting upland game and on shooting ranges. According to the CBD, one study found that up to 87 percent of cooked game shot with lead ammunition can contain unsafe levels of lead. Some state health agencies have had to recall venison donated to feed the hungry because of lead contamination from bullet fragments.
Local group Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) is also suing EPA over an issue that can affect humans and wild creatures. Aimee Code of NCAP says the suit, filed with Earthjustice, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Defenders of Wildlife, challenges the continued failure of the EPA to protect West Coast salmon and steelhead from toxic pesticides. These pesticides, used both in rural and urban areas, she says, get into rivers like the McKenzie, which is not only salmon habitat but also supplies Eugene with its drinking water.
Code says that NCAP was the lone voice that first brought the issue of pesticides’ affect on salmon to attention 10 years ago. Two years ago, she says, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued several biological opinions requiring EPA to implement measures such as no-spray buffer zones to reduce the levels of pesticides in salmon-bearing streams. She says EPA was given a year to start the process, but two years later hasn’t started.
The six pesticides included in the lawsuit are the organophosphate pesticides diazinon, malathion and chlorpyrifos, and the carbamate pesticides carbaryl, carbofuran and methomyl.
Code says malathion and carbaryl are used not only in rural applications, but around the home. They are “broad spectrum old-school pesticides,” she says, and conscientious farmers are using them less because they kill not only pests but beneficial insects as well.
A study that came out in the journal Pediatrics in May showed a link between malathion and increased cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. Other studies, Code says, have shown links between pesticides and neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders. — Camilla Mortensen
FREE PARKING ‘FIASCO’
The Eugene City Council’s expenditure of $220,000 for “free” parking downtown to help businesses may be hurting them instead.
John Carlson of the Shaw-Med store emailed the city to complain on Nov. 4 about the parking “fiasco.” The free spaces in front of his medical supply store at Broadway and Charnelton are “making it quite difficult for my handicapped clientele to access close parking,” he wrote.
“I witness day in day out people parking in front of our store and head to the library, across the street, the apartments or to their workplace,” Carlson wrote. “It seems that the ability to attract any kind of business to the downtown core (which is the goal here, right?) is shrinking as fast as vacant parking spots are.”
The City Council had ample evidence that free street parking could hurt rather than help businesses downtown before voting 6-2 in August for the parking subsidy. A pilot free parking study last year showed that many spaces were taken by employees, not business customers. — Alan Pittman
POVERTY ON THE RISE LOCALLY
One indicator of poverty in Lane County is the number of people qualifying for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The numbers (available online at http://wkly.ws/xv) are up significantly for Eugene, Springfield and Corvallis over last year, comparing October to October.
West Eugene SNAP numbers are up 17 percent, and more than 18,000 residents are now getting benefits. The rest of Eugene follows at an increase of 14.6 percent with 16,400 residents. Springfield is up 11.8 percent and Corvallis is up 7.2 percent. Cottage Grove, Florence and Albany all show double-digit increases in SNAP benefits.
The recession is hitting the homeless particularly hard, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy in an update Nov. 23. “Two separate surveys show that following the onset of the recession, food insecurity rates in Oregon have stayed relatively unchanged,” reads the update, but “when it comes to hunger, the most severe form of food insecurity, the two surveys provide differing results. One survey shows no significant change in Oregon’s hunger rate following the start of the recession, while the other survey shows a sharp increase. Either way, Oregon’s level of hunger — and of food insecurity — remain unacceptably high.”
Locally the Homeless Action Coalition (HAC) is building its mailing list of volunteers and supporters (email firstname.lastname@example.org) and one message sent out this week from retired social worker Jerry Smith offered some suggestions on how to help.
“Eugene has no legal camping and no quiet shelter where they (the homeless) can be served and left alone,” he writes. “Eugene needs a downtown community center, more places where people can legally car camp, and several more shelters. If government could cover the liability insurance needed for overnight camping in the city, county and state parks, there are hundreds of community volunteers who could be trained to offer supervision.”
Smith also called for a separate shelter for “self-medicating” substance abusers and mentally ill. “It would make the city safer for everyone else,” he wrote.
The HAC email list has included several comments about the importance of the Egan Warming Center in providing shelter for the homeless during frigid nights, particularly for those who are disabled and can’t be accommodated at the Eugene Mission. Wheelchairs and crutches were observed throughout the shelters. — Ted Taylor
SQUISHING SMALL ANIMALS BANNED
Amid all of the gridlock, name-calling and agenda-blocking, who realized the U.S. Senate could agree on anything these days? On Nov. 19, the lame-duck Senate voted unanimously to protect small furry creatures and pass the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, a bill that bans video depictions of animal torture. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley was a co-sponsor of the bill.
The videos show living animals, frequently rabbits, mice, kittens and puppies, being crushed to death, usually by women wearing high heels, as part of a sexual fetish. Sometimes the small animals are first tortured with nails, pruning shears, burning or drowning.
The law would criminalize the creation, sale, distribution, advertising, marketing and exchange of the videos. The House passed its own version of the bill in July.
Under a 1999 law, the videos were banned until the Supreme Court overturned it in 2009 for being overly broad after it was applied to a dog fighting video. An investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. found that the videos resurfaced on the internet soon after the original Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law was thrown out. On the password-protected section of a single site, the HSUS found 118 crush videos sold for $20-$100.
Merkley’s office called the videos “inhumane and disgusting” in an email to EW. “The bill that just passed is narrowly tailored to create the criminal prohibition of obscene animal crush videos,” wrote Merkley’s spokeswoman Courtney Warner Crowell. “The Supreme Court has long recognized that production and distribution of obscene material can be regulated and prohibited by Congress.”
Violations of the new law could result in up to seven years in prison. Convictions of animal abuse offenses may also help to recognize and prevent future serial killers, according to the National District Attorneys Association. — Shannon Finnell
• Envision Eugene and our urban growth boundary are the topics at City Club of Eugene at 11:45 Friday, Dec. 3, at the Hilton, 12th floor. By state law, every city goes through a planning process to ensure that a 20 year supply of buildable land exists for residential and business use.
City Manager Jon Ruiz will moderate a panel discussion about the future of growth in our community.
• The grand opening of the Native American Longhouse at LCC will be Friday, Dec. 3. The program begins with an open house at 10 am and a grand opening ceremony at 11 am followed by refreshments and tours. The annual Native American Student Association powwow follows on Saturday, Dec. 4, in the gymnasium, Building 5. Grand entries will be at noon and 7 pm.
• In commemoration of Human Rights Day on the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Al-Nakba Awareness Project and the UO Arab Student Union will show the film Belonging at 7 pm Thursday, Dec. 9, in the UO Knight Library Browsing Room. Free. The film traces the dispossessed Palestinian family of the film’s producer/director, Tariq Nasir, over two generations, including historic footage. Following the film, Dr. Ibrahim Soudy will speak on the potentially powerful role of international civil society in securing Palestinian human rights denied by governments.
• Eugene’s International Human Rights Day celebration will be from 6 to 9 pm Friday, Dec. 10, at the UO Baker Downtown Center, 975 High St. The free event will feature talks by Greg Rikhoff and Mayor Kitty Piercy, followed by a video titled, Human Rights Are at Home in Eugene. For more information, call 682-5177.
• EWEB is holding a meeting at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Dec. 7, at EWEB to discuss the upcoming rate hike due in spring 2011.
• EWEB’s proposal to sell water to Veneta is item #6 on the Eugene City Council agenda at 7:30 pm Monday, Dec. 13. See agenda at http://wkly.ws/xw
• A town hall series on the economic challenges facing Oregon nonprofits kicks off from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm Monday, Dec. 13, at the John Serbu Youth Campus in Eugene. The next town hall will be in Portland Jan. 12. See www.nonprofitoregon.org
Sign seen at a rally: “GOD HATES FIGS.” — Rafael Aldave, Eugene
•• Has terrorism really come home to Oregon? One idiotic teenager, Mohamed Mohamud, is in big trouble for allegedly wanting to blow up a holiday gathering in Portland, but doubts remain about whether he could have ever pulled it off on his own. Meanwhile, a Corvallis Islamic center was torched, apparently in reaction to the arrest, and we hear a Muslim woman in Portland was harassed. What is an appropriate community response to this so-called terrorism? We are supportive of those with cooler heads who recognize that radicals with violent tendencies walk among us, but they are usually just warped individuals, not representatives of religions or ethnic groups. History tells us the worst possible response to hate is more hate. The best response is open dialogue and a public showing of support and acceptance for those who are targets of discrimination. There are rumors that Eugene activists may be planning a Peace Train visit to the burned mosque as an expression of support for peace during the UO/OSU “Civil War” game.
• We hear the highly political lawsuit against three progressive Lane County commissioners will go before Coos County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gillespie Dec. 8, despite attempts by the plaintiffs to delay the case until next year. Why try to delay? Last we heard, former commissioner Ellie Dumdi really had no evidence to support her claim that the commissioners were holding illegal meetings, so is her Seneca lawyer still looking for a smoking gun? One theory in the wind is that Dumdi and her timber-baron buddies hope the new, more conservative commission seated in January will try to “settle” the case and admit wrongdoing by their political opponents rather than give the defendants their day in court and expose Dumdi’s silly and unfounded accusations.
• In the ballyhooed history of great sports rivalries, it might not be as universal as Bird vs. Magic or Ali vs. Foreman, but for those of us close to ground zero, it’s still a zinger: The undefeated, No. 2 ranked Ducks head north Dec. 4 to face off against their archrivals the Beavs, and everyone in the country knows what’s at stake: the UO’s first national title bid on the one side, and monstrous bragging rights on the other. The no-huddle, second-wind Ducks should, all things being equal, crush OSU this time around. The Beavers are decimated by injuries and about as predictable as a bipolar gorilla two weeks off his meds. And that is also exactly why the Ducks really need to show up in Corvallis, take nothing for granted and get the job done. This time around, it ain’t just about trash talk: Chip Kelly and team have everything to lose, and everything to gain. Win the freakin’ day, boys.
• We heard from Mayor Kitty Piercy over the long Thanksgiving weekend expressing her appreciation for last week’s cover story dispelling myths about the West Eugene EmX. Piercy has been a big supporter of EmX expansion, and like us, she would like to see the discussion move forward. Mass transit is a complex issue and so far many of the arguments have been simplistic and misleading, such as, “EmX will hurt businesses and jobs.” West Eugene traffic has been a contentious topic for decades. Let’s use this debate over EmX expansion as an opportunity to evolve some workable long-term solutions.
• Piercy also tells us she has set 7 pm Tuesday, Dec. 14, for a forum at City Hall on local funding options for our public schools. Alan Pittman’s cover story in EW Sept. 16 describes how an income tax on wealthy Eugene residents would likely pass voter scrutiny, based on how Eugeneans voted on a similar statewide Measure 66. School District 4J is in a budget crisis and looking at closing schools and laying off teachers. A city income tax on residents earning more than $250,000 a year would generate about $5 million a year for each 1 percent of additional tax. Let’s keep in mind the long-range economic and social impacts of cuts to public education.
• Big businesses will sometimes try to drive their small competitors out of the market by selling products at below cost. It’s called predatory pricing. Is it fair? Is it legal? A key victory for small business was won in the courts last week when the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s antitrust case against the SF Weekly was in effect upheld by the California Supreme Court. It was a long and dragged-out case but in the end the court ordered the deep-pocket chain newspaper to pay $21 million in damages for trying to drive its independent rival out of business by selling ads below cost.
Is there a local parallel? EW has taken a bite out of R-G advertising revenues over the years and the daily has fought back with lower ad prices. But we’re not worried; our ads are still cheaper (because of our lower overhead) and our readership is growing. The bigger implications are for local small stores that are being hurt by big-box stores trying to boost market share. According to the Bay Guardian (quoted at INC.com), “The appellate courts have made clear that predatory pricing is a violation of law — and the ruling can now be used by any merchant fighting big chains.” And Ralph Alldredge, one of the newspaper’s lawyers, is quoted saying, “Think of what that means for big-box retailers, which have used below-cost selling on some products to attract customers away from small, independently owned grocery, hardware, drug and department stores.” Better watch it.
• Why isn’t EW reviewing Actors Cabaret of Eugene’s Hairspray? The theater didn’t leave seats for reviewers opening weekend, and we’ve got three other shows opening to review for next week. Congrats to ACE for its sales, and we hope the show lives up to its ticket frenzy.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, editor at eugeneweekly dot com