This is supposed to be one of my “every-other-week-off” weeks, but there are some subjects so currently in the news that I can’t resist offering comment today.
Urgent advice to Omaha news media: Dig quickly and hard into the scandalous story behind the gutter-politics type of campaign being conducted by some of her supporters in behalf of City Councilwoman Jean Stothert in her effort to unseat Mayor Jim Suttle in the May 14 mayoral election.
The process of exposure began with a Tuesday World-Herald story, but it left basically unanswered questions certainly subject to further vigorous journalistic inquiry. Among the questions:
Who, besides wealthy Omahan and Republican political activist Pete Ricketts is openly putting up the money to fund campaign ads obviously designed to advance Stothert’s campaign by anonymously attacking Suttle?
The sponsors of the anti-Suttle ads are attempting to hide behind a bad piece of federal legislation, passed a few years ago, allowing the formation of 501(c)(4) organizations to, theoretically, discuss campaign issues without taking public stances for or against named candidates.
Some Stothert Backers Take Advantage Of Bad Law
Almost incredibly, it seems to me, the law places no limit on the amount of money that can be put anonymously into such “educational” campaigns.
The anti-Suttle ads, clearly designed to advance Stothert’s cause, attempt to take advantage of the lack of any limit on the amount of money which can be contributed anonymously.
The anti-Suttle and therefore pro-Stothert ads, as I see it, go beyond the intent of the federal law, since they don’t slant their content towards one party or one unnamed candidate but actually attack Suttle by name.
Stothert should be pressed, hard, to repudiate the ads, financed by large contributions from anonymous donors. (Anonymous so far as the public is concerned, of course. Stothert hasn’t said whether she knows the identity of the big-money contributors who are in effect supporting her candidacy.)
Opportunity—And Challenge—For The Media
The media should challenge Stothert to state clearly that she either approves of the ads and the anonymity of their financiers or disapproves. She could weasel out by a statement that she appreciates the support but would like to have those generous supporters known to the public. She has declined to make any such statement as I dictate these lines.
I would hope the issue would result in Stothert’s defeat if she does not make a statement encouraging her anonymous backers to publicly acknowledge their support.
She also has the option of simply naming those supporters. After all, shouldn’t she be proud of their support?
From the day it was passed, I thought the law was a mistake. In the American system, individuals, including wealthy ones, should have the courage of their convictions and be willing to be publicly identified with any contribution which they make in a political campaign.
In a well-merited attempt to either repeal or revise the federal law, the Omaha mayoral campaign could well be cited as an example of a need for repeal or revision (even if Stothert does the right thing and distances herself from the efforts of her wealthy backers to conceal their identity from voters).
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Was Terrorist Possibility Overlooked By FBI?
Smug Bombers In Effect Identified Themselves
Dominating the news, of course, has been the Patriots Day/Boston Marathon tragedy, which inspires this comment:
I was wondering how soon the word “Muslim” would appear as part of the story. I thought it was entirely predictable that Muslim jihadists, eager to show their contempt for America and its values, would be the most likely perpetrators of the bombings which killed three people and wounded more than 175 others, some of them gravely. (The loss of both legs, even if the victim survived, could surely be classified as a grave wound.)
It was poetic justice, I think, that the Muslim terrorists, two brothers who enjoyed the hospitality of life in America for the past 12 years, were exposed and apprehended (one of them killed in the process) because of their almost casual stroll away from the explosion site (a casual stroll captured on a surveillance camera) while everyone else in the area was running in the opposite direction towards the site of the blasts.
This sort of “ho-hum, all in a day’s terrorism” performance enabled cameras to capture clear images of the faces of the two brothers, which quickly made them hunted fugitives.
Did FBI Blow An Early Chance To Suspect Terrorism?
“First responders”—which in this case included a good many civilians who simply rushed in to help—received proper praise for their efforts. But government agencies clearly had fallen short of superior performance in two cases:
In 2011 a foreign government (unidentified in news accounts to date) asked the FBI whether the older brother had extremist ties. The FBI apparently found nothing of concern, since the older brother was not put on any kind of FBI watch list.
In 2012 the elder brother was absent on a trip to Russia, very likely to his rebellious home province of Chechnya, for six months.
A New York Times story reports that former FBI counterterrorism officials now—now—are “conducting a review of that trip to see if the older brother might have met with extremists or received training from them while abroad.
Why Didn’t Police Check Backyards Too?
After the bombings which might have been a result of the training during that visit to Chechnya now being investigated by the FBI, law enforcement officials cordoned off the Watertown, Boston suburb where the fleeing brothers had been spotted and the elder brother killed.
Residents were ordered to stay in their houses while the police conducted a presumably intensive search.
But for some reason for which I have read no explanation at all, the police search did not include backyards of the cordoned-off houses. And the younger brother, badly wounded, had taken refuge under the waterproof cover of a boat in the backyard of one of the houses. The homeowner discovered signs of blood on that boat cover when the cordon was lifted and he could leave his house.
All in all, much heroism, much effective reaction from law enforcement officials and compassionate and effective reaction from civilians. But also a major measure of simple good luck (the quick availability of easily identifiable “mug shots” of the two brothers. And also, on the strongly negative side, belated recognition of the failure to maintain close surveillance of the older brother after a foreign government’s inquiry which should have alerted the FBI to the terrorist potential.
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Going To The Dogs One More Time
Time to go to a doggy cartoon again. This one prompted, of course, by recent Omaha weather.
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