Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Police: School Shooting Suspects Had ‘Viable’ Plot to Massacre Others

Police: School Shooting Suspects Had ‘Viable’ Plot to Massacre Others

Police: School Shooting Suspects Had ‘Viable’ Plot to Massacre Others

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:57 AM PDT

Two teenagers suspected of plotting a “massacre” at a California school searched for information concerning automatic weapons, handguns, knives, bulletproof vests and bomb-making devices, police said Tuesday.

South Pasadena Police Chief Arthur Miller said investigators found evidence of a “viable” plot to target three school staff members and launch an indiscriminate attack on fellow students. “They just wanted to kill as many people as possible,” Miller said during a Tuesday press conference.

Investigators had been surveilling the teenagers since last Thursday, when school officials passed on a tip from an unidentified community member. Police say that while the suspects had not yet obtained weapons or scheduled an attack date, they had discussed the possibility of stealing a weapon from a relative and were “very steadfast in their conversation” about their plan of attack.

The suspects are being held in custody at Eastlake Juvenile Hall and are expected to face charges of conspiracy and criminal threat. School officials said police would ramp up patrols around South Pasadena’s schools, where some 4,500 students will begin a new school year this Thursday.

How Hope for a Kurdish State Vanished Overnight

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:47 AM PDT

Just one month ago, the Chief of Staff to Kurdish President Barzazi and the Kurdish Defense Minister travelled to Washington, D.C., and policy makers wondered if, finally, the time was ripe for an independent state. The Iraqi province of Kurdistan was held up as what Iraq could be: a secure area with a booming economy and a what was thought to be a well-trained army.

After the American-led no fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, the Kurds focused on internal economic growth by taking advantage of the vast supply of oil. The Kurdish Regional Government convinced oil companies like ExxonMobil, Total and Gazprom to defy the government in Baghdad and invest in the region by showing them how stable their investment would be–while the rest of Iraq became engulfed in the rising number of IEDs.

A model for regional stability, an independent Kurdistan was the future of Iraq, many (including Vice President Biden) thought.

Then ISIS came.

In June, ISIS took over the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and quickly focused their sights on the northeastern Kurdish region. While groups like the Afghan Taliban receive funding through the illicit trade of illegal drugs like heroin, ISIS is much more sophisticated, said Steve Levine, a New America Future Tense Fellow, at a recent panel discussion held at New America. They are doing something that no terrorist group has been able to do so far: gain control of standard resources like wheat fields, oil refineries and dams that power hydroelectric plants. They're organized, they have a central command and control center, they're logistically sophisticated and they have democratized violence using social media for their own purposes. All of these things have allowed ISIS to continue their advance and drive at the heart of the Kurdish independent region, that is, oil refineries in the north, and so the bubble has burst on dreams of an independent Kurdistan.

As recently as last week, the Kurdish city of Erbil was attacked in a strong offensive by ISIS, and American diplomats living in the city were in danger. Fearing another Benghazi disaster, which left four American diplomats dead, President Obama ordered the use of targeted airstrikes to slow the advance of ISIS. Bolstered by these airstrikes, the Peshmerga have pushed back ISIS in concentrated areas. But in vast areas without air support, the losses of the Peshmerga have continued. Without proper training and experience, the Peshmerga simply have not performed as expected, said Derek Harvey (Ret.), a Former Senior Analyst for Iraq for General David H. Petraeus. The losses currently being felt by the Peshmerga may be due to the fact that after the Iraqi government pulled out of several towns, and that the Kurds over-extended their territory, extending their borders by almost 40 percent overnight, said Denise Natali, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Defense University.

At the same time that Kurds have been taking these significant territorial losses, the backbone of their economy — their oil industry — evaporated almost overnight. All of the major oil companies in the Kurdish region have left, and the economy has come to a virtual standstill, said Natali. More so, Kurdish tankers that are currently carrying oil have been operating in international legal limbo and sitting just off shore. Unable to dock and unload their cargo, a legal battle has began in American civil courts. To the delight of the government in Baghdad, the State Department has actively called countries and oil traders to discourage the oil from being purchased.

In fact, even if the oil industry was operating as usual, the idea of an economically vibrant Kurdish state was a myth. "The Kurdish economy has been propped up by the government in Baghdad, the United States, and even Iran," said Natali. "Even if the oil industry is operating at full capacity, they would essentially be a client state of Turkey."

The advance of ISIS has shown that Kurdistan cannot succeed without a strong Iraq, and vice versa. The U.S. airstrikes that have bolstered the Kurds have been closely coordinated with the government back in Baghdad, and the intelligence shared between the two armies has been essential. As for the Kurdish oil, it can only be exported if Baghdad drops its proprietary claims and allows it to be sold on the international market. Put simply: the fantasy of a Kurdish independent state has evaporated for the time being. But if the Kurds continue to work with the government in Baghdad, there's a chance that they could prevent ISIS from spreading into Jordan or Lebanon and further destabilizing the region, and, if they're lucky, they could start to rebuild the region — together.

Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Emily Schneider is a research associate for the national security program at New America. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

Home Movies: Who’s the Bigger Criminal, Whitey Bulger or the FBI?

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:35 AM PDT

In the Irish-American neighborhood of South Boston, parents wanted their children to excel. Kevin Weeks, whose brothers both went to Harvard, matriculated instead into organized crime. Weeks recalls that, as he prepared to commit his first murder, he promised himself, "I'm gonna be the best at it that I can."

Whitey Bulger's younger brother Billy was, as one journalist notes, "the most powerful politician in Massachusetts": he ran the state Senate from 1978 to 1996, then served seven years as the President of the University of Massachusetts. Whitey served in juvenile jail, the Atlanta Penitentiary, Lewisburg and Alcatraz. Back home in the mid-'60s, he took over the Winter Hill Gang and, with Weeks as his enforcer, became the most famous and feared gangster in New England. Before Bulger was arrested with his girlfriend Catherine Greif in Santa Monica on Jun. 22, 2011, having lived on the lam for 15½ years, he ranked No. 2 on the FBI's Most Wanted list, just behind Osama bin Laden. As America's top homegrown criminal, the kid from Southie had made it big.

How did Bulger run the Boston mob so long and with such impunity? (As his defense attorney Hank Brennan says, "He was never charged with even a misdemeanor.") And how did he manage to elude the law when he went into hiding? Joe Berlinger's engrossing documentary Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger, argues that he was shielded from prosecution by James J. Sullivan, Bulger's FBI contact and an old Southie pal — perhaps in exchange for inside information, perhaps not. Either way, the government enabled him. The film's subtitle could be The United States of America in cahoots with James J. Bulger.

Whichever side you take, Whitey is a must-see. On VOD, where the film is widely available, viewers can savor each betrayal, replay the enormity of Bulger's (and perhaps the FBI's) crimes and study the eloquent pain of the victims. Sticking to the facts, this documentary is still a much movie-r movie than, say, Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed, starring Jack Nicholson as a fictionalized Bulger, or other Boston-based dramas like Mystic River and The Town, with famous actors doing their darnedest to mimic the distinctive Southie accent. (Next year we’ll see an official Bulger bio-pic, Black Mass, with Johnny Depp as Whitey and Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother Billy.) There's truth, not art, in the handsome, meaty faces and broad vowels of the men and women Berlinger interviewed. The tears these tough people shed come not from the Method but from memories of what the ogre did to them and their loved ones.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Departed)

For Bulger returned to Boston like a dreaded ghost from the bedroom closet of a child's nightmares. One difference: this scary figure left lasting scars on the victims and their families. Stephen Rakes recalls Bulger and Weeks visiting him in the '70s, shortly after he opened the South Boston Liquor Mart; they dropped by to convince him to accept the mob as partners. If he didn't, Whitey said, "I'll stab ya and I'll kill ya." When Rakes declined the proposal, Bulger looked at the man's year-old daughter and noted, "It'd be terrible for this kid to grow up without a father." Rakes says he was never the same, but is now eager to testify against Bulger: "Thirty years ago he scared me to death. He don't scare me to death no more."

Rakes' partner in grief is Steve Davis; he believes Whitey killed his sister Debbie, who had been a girl friend of Bulger hit man Steve Flemmi. (You need a scorecard to sort out all the Steves, Debbies and John J.’s in this movie.) "Steve and I," says Davis, referring to Rakes, "we have something in common: this psychotic individual. We're gonna bring justice. It has to be done" — as if they are the villagers who consider it their solemn duty to take communal revenge on the monster. Yet later, after Rakes is taken off the witness list, he is found dead seven miles from where his car was abandoned. He seems to have been the victim of a business dispute that had no connection with the Bulger case.

Weeks (who in Black Mass will be played by Jesse Piemons) has the roguish bravado of an insider who can rationalize crimes against anyone: the feds, or civilians caught in the crossfire, or his old boss. Of FBI agents, he says, "They have a badge that [identifies them as a] Special Agent. But there's nothin' special about them. They're regular people. If you find their weakness, or their needs, or if they have a problem and you can solve it for them, you can corrupt them" — with payoffs of between $25,000 and $50,000 per transaction. He shrugs off the death of Michael Donahue, whose crime was to have shared a ride with one of Whitey's enemies. Rules of the game, says Weeks: "You wanna spend time with gangsters and wise guys, this is what happens." A serial perjurer who admits, "I've been lyin' all my life," Weeks defends his decision to inform on Whitey: "You can't rat on a rat."

Berlinger, who spent nearly 20 years on his Paradise Lost trilogy documenting the unjust convictions of the West Memphis Three, lets Bulger’s lawyers lay out the defense: that, yes, Whitey was involved in drug-dealing, bookmaking and loan-sharking but, no, not murder. He says Weeks, Flemmi and John Martorano committed the crimes, then turned informants to get shorter sentences. At issue in his trial, as Bulger saw it, was not his freedom — 83 when the trial convened, he knew he would spent the rest of his life as a guest of the state — but his legacy. On the phone with defense attorney J.W. Carney, he stoutly avers, "I never, never, never cracked [informed]." Says Fred Wyshak of the prosecution team, "He doesn't want to be called an informant. Because where he came from, in Southie, that's the worst thing you can be."

(READ: Joe Berlinger on the West Memphis Three)

That, and a literal lady-killer. Bulger also strenuously denies the charges that he strangled Deborah Hussey and Steve Davis's sister Debbie. "Whitey Bulger cannot have people think he murdered those two women," says Kevin Cullen, a Boston Globe columnist who coauthored two books on Bulger. "And he cannot have people think he was an informant. This is not about getting acquitted. This is about changing the narrative back to the one he spent years cultivating. And that narrative is he is a good bad guy. He is a gangster with scruples; he is a criminal with standards. And gangsters with scruples do not murder women and bury them in shallow graves. Criminals with standards don’t turn on their friends."

"Criminals with standards" are still criminals, while the feds are supposed to be the good guys. Yet long-time Boston journalists insist the FBI protected Whitey in exchange for information on the local Mafia. Agents John Connolly and Jeremiah O'Sullivan are said to have let the Bulger gang run unfettered for decades. One unsullied agent, Bob Fitzpatrick, who tried to bring the mob boss to justice and was determined to testify to the unholy alliance between Bulger and the feds, is treated nearly as a hostile witness by the prosecution. "I think the FBI is worse than the Mafia," says Michael Donahue's surviving son Tommy. "They're the most organized crime family on the planet."

"The real story here is that our government enabled killers to run free in this city," says David Boeri, senior reporter for WBUR radio and a consultant on the film. So compromised was the FBI, Boeri claims, that it became "the Bulger Bureau of Investigation. And it was because they [the feds] were all crazed about getting the Mafia that they enabled the Irish godfather to run the show here. And he was far more dangerous than the Italians." In the end, Weeks and his lieutenants wore out their loyalty to Whitey and agreed to help bring him down. As Steve Davis notes, "The Irish mob, every one of them, they were stumbling over each other, just to rat."

One thing Boston mobsters and their victims have in common: they love to talk. The charm and blarney, the threats and alibis, form a spectacular symphony of verbal belligerence, which Berlinger listens to and sorts out for viewers. The director gives more screen time to the defense than to the prosecution, perhaps because he buys their assertion about government corruption, perhaps because they're just better bullshitters. At the end, though, we learn that "The FBI declined to be interviewed for this film." In this complex weave of Southie malfeasance, the Agency's silence may be its own indictment.

#Dontshoot Protesters Outraged by Ferguson Teen’s Death Throw Up Their Hands on Instagram

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:34 AM PDT

Four days after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., students at Howard University gathered for this picture with their faces plaintive and their hands:

Since then, similar images of groups around the nation — from other college students, to teachers to churches — have spread across social media under the hashtag “#Dontshoot.”

78 Arrested in Ferguson Overnight, Most From Missouri, Arrest Records Show

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:33 AM PDT

Jail records obtained by NBC News show that at least 78 people were arrested overnight at the protests in Ferguson, Missouri — more than double the total reported by authorities — and that the overwhelming majority of them were from Missouri.

Of the 78, all but three were arrested for refusing to disperse, the records show. Two people, both from the St. Louis area, were arrested for unlawful use of a weapon, and a man from Rockton, Illinois, was arrested for interfering with an officer…

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

Here’s What Ant-Man Will Look Like

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:22 AM PDT

Paul Rudd joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Ant-Man in an eponymous movie set to release in the U.S. on July 17, 2015. Take a look at some concept art of what Ant-Man will look like.

Uber Wants To Bring You Your Diapers and Shampoo

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:12 AM PDT

Uber wants to be your delivery boy now, too. The car-hailing service is testing a new delivery feature called Uber Corner Store that will allow customers to get more than 100 items sent right to their doorstep in a matter of minutes.

Via the Uber app, users can select the "Corner Store" option, and will then receive a text from the company with a list of items available in their area. Next, an Uber driver calls the customer and takes his or her order. Then the goods get delivered to the customer's home. There's no additional delivery fee and customers are not expected to tip their driver, according to an Uber blog post.

For now the service is only available as a test trial to a limited number of users in the Washington, D.C. area. The item list is mostly limited to pricey name brand products—you'll be buying Pampers or Huggies, for instance, not store-brand diapers. But Uber says it plans to expand the number of products offered and extend the service, currently only available on weekdays, to weekends and late nights.

Uber Corner Store will compete directly with Google Shopping Express, which lets users receive buy products and receive deliveries from local stores, and Amazon's same-day delivery service. The new service illustrates Uber's ambition to extend far beyond being simply a taxi app. The company is also experimenting with a courier service in New York and a moving service called UberMovers in Atlanta and Nashville.

Iraq Fighting Is Driving Weapons Prices Through the Roof

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:04 AM PDT

Next to a criminal prison in Erbil, Kurdish traders hawk Kalashnikovs, pistols and even American made M16s.

"This is $1,500," says Saleh Mahmoud, stroking the wooden shaft of a Bulgarian-made Kalashnikov. "Last week this gun was $2,000. The day the terrorists came near Erbil everyone was buying weapons."

Mahmoud has dealt in arms since 1991, when the Kurds were battling Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army. In more than two decades in the arms trade, he says he’s never seen prices skyrocket like they did 10 days ago as Islamist militants showed up on the Kurds’ doorstep. And while Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, retook the critical Mosul Dam from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Monday, the fighting against the extremists is far from over. The peshmerga were only able to retake the dam with assistance from the Iraqi national army and heavy American air cover. The fact that it took three armed forces to recapture just one structure from ISIS shows the strength of the militants—and doesn’t bode well for Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The semi-autonomous Kurds are considered to have the most capable army in Iraq, but they have mostly light artillery, and no air force.

Outside the headquarters of Asayesh, the peshmerga's intelligence arm, three large Kurdish men stand on guard with Russian made weapons—a couple of aging Kalashnikovs and a newer Izhmash. A lot of the weapons carried by peshmerga forces were looted from Saddam's army bases in 1990s, and they weren't top shelf even then.

President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States had "urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines." But Colonel Hersh Muhsin, who heads the Asayesh munitions unit in Erbil, says he hasn't seen any new guns.

"Come with me," he says, opening a closest with a few RPGs and rifles leaning against the wall and mounted PKC machine gun sitting on the floor. "These RPGs are useless against America-made armored vehicles. On the front lines, ISIS all have American made weapons, and we do not."

But while they may be poorly armed, Muhsin says the peshmerga are strong because they are fighting to protect their land. "Less important is the gun, and more important is the strength of the ideology of the hand that holds it," he says.

The peshmerga are known for being passionate fighters, raised on guns and nationalism in the mountains of Kurdistan, but Muhsin may be underestimating the conviction of the ISIS fighters who pledge their allegiance to the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and fight for the dream of an Islamic caliphate.

The lack of budget and supplies has pushed Kurdish fighters to buy their own guns. That, combined with the fear of the general population, pushed up weapons prices early in the month.

"But now people are looking to the media which says everyday that France, Germany and America will send weapons," Muhsin says.

Back at the market, the buyers and sellers say that prices have finally dipped, a sign people here have faith the weapons are coming from aboard. The market is filled with peshmerga fighters buying their own guns, but everyone here calls for the international community to give more.

"I bought this to fight ISIS," says Niro Talat, a 34-year-old driver who managed to find $3,000 to buy a brand-new M-16. He twists the sleek black weapon in his hands. "This is better than a Kalashnikov. It's more accurate. It's a good weapon."

No one here seems to know how a new M-16, stamped, "Property of the U.S. GOVT," ended-up in this market, but it raises questions about the fate of foreign arms provided to the Kurds to fight ISIS.

The position of this gun market, a few hundred meters from a criminal prison, may be an indication of the Kurdish forethought when comes to weapons. "Do you want to take a picture of an RPG," asks a man leaning into the car wearing military fatigues and the very-popular-here faux 'US Army' shirt. "Come, it's in my house."

The peshmerga were born of Kurdish resistance and trained as guerilla fighters to protect their mountainous territory and fight for independence. The Kurdish leaders are preaching about ISIS's brutality and the militants' superior American arms, demanding equally good weapons to fight the extremists.

But where will those guns be pointed when—or if—ISIS is defeated? The goal of theses Kurdish fighters has always been an independent Kurdistan.

Take Your First Look At Paul Rudd As Marvel’s Ant-Man

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:02 AM PDT

Paul Rudd is set to become the latest Hollywood star to get a superhero makeover in Marvel’s upcoming Ant-Man, which began principal photography in San Francisco on August 18, with additional filming to take place in Atlanta.

In the film, Rudd plays con-man Scott Lang, who becomes Ant-Man, a superhero with the ability to shrink or enlarge at will, in order to help out his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the creator of the Ant-Man suit.

Ant-Man is set for U.S. release on July 17, 2015.

Taylor Swift Proves She’s the Musical Equivalent to a Pumpkin Spice Latte

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 10:01 AM PDT

It didn’t seem possible, but Taylor Swift is getting even more Vanilla Coke. Last night, T-Swift disavowed her country roots and announced she was putting out an all-pop album, beginning with the single “Shake It Off.”

In some ways, “Shake It Off” is classic Taylor. Her whole persona is that of an awkward high school nerd (“she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers“) who happened to make it big by crying on her guitar. Never mind that she’s beautiful and one of six women in the entire world that can pull off red lipstick.

Every girl can relate to Taylor: she falls in love—hard; she gets her heart broken; she has a sleepover with her girlfriends and regains confidence; she becomes strong and independent; she falls in love again. Rinse and repeat. In short, “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.

“Shake It Off” was pulled out of the empowerment part of that cycle: this time the tune shakes off all the haters’ insults. But the song also attempts to make her even more mainstream. She’s not even a little bit country: she’s the dictionary definition of pop star. What can we expect from a new T-Swift album? Think the sonic version of drinking a pumpkin spice latte in Uggs while watching Sex and the City.

We saw this coming two years ago with “22.” In fact, loving Taylor Swift and the song “22” is a large portion of BuzzFeed’s “How Basic Are You?” quiz, as is Diet Coke—for which Swift is the spokesperson! (For the uninitiated, someone who is basic is cliché, conformist and predictable without any sense of irony. Here’s a great explainer.) But Red tenuously held on to some folksy roots. That and her adorable awkwardness kept her from being Katy Perry.

Now Swift is pulling an anti-Miley Cyrus. Sure, they are both re-appropriating twerking in a way that some of their critics have said is racist. But Cyrus shakes her (less than curvy) booty to try to be rebellious. In “Shake It Off” Swift looks like she contemplates doing the same for a second and then laughs. That’s not her. She’s never going to sing about doing Molly or straddle anything naked. And she’s not going to differentiate herself with country music either. Instead she’s naming her album 1989, in honor of the year she was born because nostalgia is pretty basic too.

She called the album a “rebirth” in the live stream announcing its release date (October 27, in case you were wondering), but the only thing new about it so far is that this single sounds like it could have just as easily come from Ariana Grande or any other Nickelodeon star. During the Q&A portion of the livestream Swift said, “All of what I decide to do on albums is based on what I think you will like.” And since her fans are tweens, they like basic things.

It’s not particularly interesting. But it’s catchy. And, oh, will it sell.

There’s a reason Ariana Grande is topping the charts right now. Sure, being unique can be profitable: Miley Cyrus totally changes her image and has a hit with Bangerz; Beyoncé drops a surprise album and breaks the Internet. But it’s also a risk: the common reaction to Lorde’s refreshing candidness has been “she’ll grow out of it”; and even though Kanye West’s Yeezus, an album that dared fans to like something so strange and different from his earlier work, was critically acclaimed, it didn’t sell all that well (by Kanye standards).

Pumpkin Spice Lattes, on the other hand, will always sell. And that’s okay because pumpkin flavored things are delicious, and I’ve already listened to “Shake It Off” a dozen times.




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