Tuesday Reads: Moose, Black Bears, a Laudable FBI Sting, and Various Slimy Politicians

Good Morning!!

I just had to share this news about wildlife encroaching on Boston’s western suburbs: Black bear and moose sighted in Needham and Wellesley

It was a wild Monday in the suburbs west of Boston, with reports of a black bear ambling down by the Charles River in Needham and sightings of a 600-pound moose racing through backyards and across streets in Wellesley.

Isn’t that exciting?

The suburban sightings follow a rash of similar wildlife reports across the state – coyotes, of course, and more recently, black bears. One particularly adventurous bear spent weeks roaming Cape Cod, romping through cranberry bogs and backyards and spawning bear-themed T-shirts before being tranquilized in Wellfleet.

A bear was spotted in a few yards around Norwood Saturday night, according to local police. And State Environmental Police investigated reports of a black bear in the woods along Route 109 in Dedham Sunday morning. Officers did not locate the bear, and officials speculated it had moved on.

According to the article, the bear population in Massachusetts has increased since it was estimated at 3,000 in 2005 and bears have started to move into the eastern part of the state. It’s mating season now, so the bears are out searching for mates and looking to establish their own territories.

As for the moose:

While authorities combed Wellesley backyards Monday afternoon, people puttered around in their cars hollering out the latest updates on the moose’s location from the police scanners. Groups on foot swapped backyard-sighting stories, and shared pictures on cell phones. They gathered with cameras at the ready to watch as authorities blocked off a home on Lexington Road to search its woody backyard for the wild interloper.

Police searched for hours but were unable to locate the moose.

An FBI Sting Operation Worth Applauding

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the FBI broke up prostitution rings across the U.S., freeing 79 underage prostitutes and arresting 105 pimps “as part of the…Innocence Lost National Initiative entitled ‘Operation Cross Country VI.'”

Reuters:

Seventy-nine teenagers held against their will and forced into prostitution were rescued at hotels, truck stops and storefronts in a three-day sweep of sex-trafficking rings across the United States, law enforcement officials said on Monday.

The FBI said 104 alleged pimps were arrested during sting operations in 57 U.S. cities including Atlanta, Sacramento, and Toledo, Ohio. The operation lasted between Thursday and Saturday and involved state and local authorities as well as the FBI.

The teenagers, aged from 13 to 17 years old, were being held in custody until they could be placed with child welfare organizations. They were all U.S. citizens and included 77 girls and two boys, the FBI said.

One of the minors recovered in the sweep reported being involved in prostitution from the age of 11, according to Kevin Perkins, acting executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch.

He said the cases were not “one-off” incidents, but evidence of “criminal enterprises” that lure minors in, often through social media, hold them against their will through threats to them or their families, and then traffic them through different U.S. cities.

CNN has more from Perkins:

“Many times the children that are taken in in these types of criminal activities are children that are dissaffected, they are from broken homes, they may be on the street themselves — they are really looking for a meal, they are looking for shelter, they are looking for someone to take care of them, and that’s really the first approach that’s made,” said Perkins.

“Once the child has been taken out of harm’s way, then really the story just begins at that point,” said Perkins. “That’s where the real work starts, where we have to call upon the community, various social welfare agencies, our own office of victim assistance has to work with each child on an individual basis to see what their requirements are.

“This is a very difficult task. These children are very damaged — very harmed, and they need a great deal of help — it’s really taxing the social welfare agencies and it’s something that, going forward, we need to pay particular attention to.”

Unfortunately many of these children may still end up back on the streets. Still, it’s a worthwhile effort, IMHO.

Mitt Romney Updates

ABC News The Note managed to get some details about Romney’s ultra-secret weekend millionaire/billionare donor retreat in Park City, Utah.

Chateaux at Silver Lake

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: As attendees entered the Chateaux at Silver Lake, the host hotel, throughout the sunny afternoon, they were handed a Vineyard Vines tan canvas tote bag with navy piping and the words “Believe in America” stitched on the side. Inside the bag was a blue baseball hat with “Romney” written over a circular American flag and a thick white binder, detailing the weekend’s schedule from policy discussions to social events, along with a list of Romney’s upcoming events and Romney for president pins.

In addition to the Romney swag, there was also a typed note from Romney’s National Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick addressed to the attendees by their first names. “Welcome to the first Romney Victory Leadership Retreat! We are very glad you were able to join us for this special weekend. Thank you for the continued support and leadership. On to victory!,” the card read.
Some were even personalized with a handwritten note from Zwick expressing appreciation to the donor and his or her family, signed with his initials “SZ.”

Golf carts whipped attendees around the complex and to discussions on healthcare, Israel, the state of the race, and the financial services industry that were conducted both Friday and Saturday.

There’s lots more at the link.

Despite the complaints of corporate Democrats like Cory Booker and Ed Rendell, the Obama campaign has continued to hammer Mitt Romney over his history as a corporate raider. And over the weekend, there were three in-depth articles on Romney’s time at Bain Capital. Today James Downie highlighted those pieces at the WaPo: Mitt Romney, Bain Capital and a ‘profit-first’ presidency

The first, from Friday’s Post, described how Romney’s Bain was an early supporter of companies that outsourced American jobs. “While Bain was not the largest player in the outsourcing field,” The Post reported, “the private equity firm was involved early on, at a time when the departure of jobs from the United States was beginning to accelerate and new companies were emerging as handmaidens to this outflow of employment.” That outsourcing damaged American job creation was no matter; Bain made its profit.

The second, in Saturday’s New York Times, outlined how, again and again, Romney’s Bain reaped revenue from companies even as they were failing. “At least seven [of the 40 U.S.-based companies that Bain held a majority stake in while Romney was active at Bain] eventually filed for bankruptcy while Bain remained involved, or shortly afterward . . . In some instances, hundreds of employees lost their jobs. In most of those cases, however, records and interviews suggest that Bain and its executives still found a way to make money.” In several of the bankruptcies, companies made their situation worse by borrowing more to return money to Bain and its investors. And even when both outside investors and the companies themselves failed to do well, “lucrative fees helped insulate Bain and its executives.” Again, Bain made its profit.

The third, and perhaps most damning article, came from Sunday’s Boston Globe, depicting Romney’s work with disgraced junk-bond king Michael Milken. In 1988, Romney was searching for money to finance a heavily-leveraged buyout of two small department store chains. “At the time of the deal, it was widely known that Milken and his company were under federal investigation” for insider trading and stock manipulation. Despite this, Romney and his partners, after personally meeting with Milken, went ahead with the deal. With financing from Milken’s shady business, Romney and Bain were able to make a $10 billion investment, not long before Milken was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Bain eventually profited to the tune of $175 million (although the merged department stores later went bankrupt, shortly after dumping its Bain-appointed chief executive). Sure, an important chunk of the financing may have come from questionable sources, but Bain made its profit.

I included the Boston Globe article in my Sunday morning roundup. If you haven’t read it yet, please do.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign has been taking the John Kerry approach–ignoring the attacks on Romney’s primary claim to presidential qualifications, just as Kerry long ignored the attacks on him by the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” That didn’t work out so well for Kerry.

Today, President Obama mocked Romney’s response to the outsourcing story at a campaign event in New Hampshire.

The president noted that Romney’s campaign had pushed back against the Post’s scoop by complaining it didn’t sufficiently distinguish between “outsourcing” and “offshoring,” only the latter of which expressly involves shipping jobs overseas.

“You cannot make this stuff up!” Obama said. “What Gov. Romney and his advisers don’t seem to understand is this: If you’re a worker whose job went overseas, you don’t need somebody trying to explain to you the difference between outsourcing and offshoring, you need someone who’s going to wake up every day and fight for American jobs and investment here in the United States.”

Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law

Pennsylvania is one of the many Republican-controlled states that have instituted voter ID laws. Usually the claim is that these laws will prevent the massive amount of voter fraud that Republicans claim is happening (of course, there’s no evidence whatsoever for this claim). But recently a Pennsylvania Republican state legislator actually told the truth.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) suggested that the House’s end game in passing the Voter ID law was to benefit the GOP politically.

“We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years,” said Turzai in a speech to committee members Saturday. He mentioned the law among a laundry list of accomplishments made by the GOP-run legislature.

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

The statement drew a loud round of applause from the audience. It also struck a nerve among critics, who called it an admission that they passed the bill to make it harder for Democrats to vote — and not to prevent voter fraud as the legislators claimed.

The Pennsylvania voter ID law is particularly complex and strict in its requirements. Most onerous is the requirement that the ID must include a specific date of expiration.

As this article in The Nation explains, most employment and student ID’s do not have expiration dates listed. Even the Republican Secretary of State Carol Aichele did not know that her employee ID would not be accepted for voting!

Back in April, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele visited the editorial board of the Erie Times-News newspaper to speak with them about the new photo voter ID bill Governor Tom Corbett had just signed into law….Aichele’s Erie visit was part of a state tour to educate voters about what they’d need for compliance with law and for the ability to exercise their right to vote. One of the IDs acceptable for voting is a state employee photo identification card. However, the law also says that IDs must have a current expiration date for voter eligibility, and the state employee cards do not. Aichele seemed to overlook this paradox in her education drive.

“Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele showed her state photo ID, which is not acceptable for voting because it doesn’t have an expiration date,” wrote the editorial board after she showed hers to them. It must have been humiliating for the secretary who was promoting the new law to find that her own example didn’t hold muster. It’s bad enough mandating that voters have ID cards, but to add the additional restriction that the ID needs an expiration date makes it even more obtrusive. The editorial says that 10 percent of Pennsylvanians, or 88,000, do not have a valid photo ID—though that number is contested and is thought to be much larger.

The law will make voting difficult for many senior citizens.

Take the example of Henrietta Kay Dickerson, 75, of Pittsburgh, a black woman who was born in Louisiana. She came to Pennsylvania as an infant and grew up her whole life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the historical black neighborhood immortalized in the plays of August Wilson. In May last year her state ID expired. She went to the state’s department of transportation where she was refused a free voter ID card, even after she paid the $13.50 fee, according to her account in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project against the state, which says the law violates voting rights granted by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Pennsylvania’s many college students could also have difficulties if they don’t research the law’s requirements and follow them exactly. Most college IDs do not have dates of expiration.

I’m going to end here, because this post is getting way too long! I’ll turn the floor over to you now–what are your reading recommendations for today?

Sunday Reads

The Natchez Trace National Park, Mississippi

Good Morning!!

After the discussion of detective stories on the morning thread yesterday, I was inspired to read another book by Nevada Barr. Barr is a former National Park ranger who writes novels about Anna Pigeon, a park ranger who works in law enforcement. The books take place in different national parks, as Anna is transferred from place to place during her career. The one I’m reading right now is called Hunting Season. It is the second book Barr has written that takes pace in the Natchez Trace in Mississippi.  I like Barr’s books, because she describes beautiful outdoor settings and the animals and people who populate our national parks.

Another book I really enjoyed recently was The Girl on the Stairs. I think most of you know by now that I am interested in the Kennedy Assassination. I really liked this book because it was written in the form of a memoir.

The author, Barry Ernest became involved in research about the assassination as a young man. Early on he read in the Warren Report about a young woman named Victoria Adams who had witnessed the assassination from the fourth floor of the Texas book depository–two floors below where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot at the president from a sixth floor window. Over the years Ernest interviewed almost every important witness of the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and worked with several early assassination researchers. He didn’t find Victoria Adams until many years later. I found the story of his journey of discovery fascinating and moving.

In the news, there’s a new theory about the purpose of Stonehenge–offered by a team of archaeologists who have been investigating the site for the past ten years.

Dismissing all previous theories, scientists working on the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP) believe the enigmatic stone circle was built as a grand act of union after a long period of conflict between east and west Britain.

Coming from southern England and from west Wales, the stones may have been used to represent the ancestors of some of Britain’s earliest farming communities.

According study leader Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, Britain’s Neolithic people became increasingly unified during the monument’s main construction around 3000 B.C. to 2500 B.C.

“There was a growing island-wide culture — the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast,” Parker Pearson said.

“Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them. Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification,” Parker Pearson said.

Tropical Storm Debby is moving towards the Gulf of Mexico. I hope she won’t cause too much trouble for those of who who live down in Texas and Louisiana. Of course, as Dak pointed out to me last night, Debby might just head up toward New England after she’s finished with the Gulf coast. Yikes!

Tropical Storm Debby crawled slowly closer to the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, its exact track still uncertain as forecasters warned the system could begin strengthening and produce near hurricane force winds in coming days.

Amid an ongoing threat of torrential downpours from Debby, authorities warned of the possibility of flooding and strong winds from Texas to Florida. At least one tornado linked to the storm touched down Saturday in southwest Florida, but no injuries were reported. Heavy squalls pounded parts of that state.

At 5 a.m. EDT Sunday, Debby was about 165 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Debby was moving toward the north at 3 mph and was expected to strengthen as it gradually takes a more westward direction in coming hours.

In politics, there are two big secret meetings of superrich Republicans going on this weekend.

It’s going to be a big weekend in the world of big conservative money: Both Mitt Romney and billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch are holding hush-hush events with wealthy donors designed to keep the dollars coming in.

Romney’s three-day retreat, which is being held at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, is an opportunity for about 700 Romney’s biggest fundraisers to get some face time with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. (Many of them are “bundlers” – wealthy and well-connected individuals who call on their family, friends and associates to max out their contributions to Romney and the GOP – who have raised in the area of $250,000 for Romney.) Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, and many of the top contenders to be Romney’s running mate, are also coming to Park City: CBS News has confirmed that attendees will include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Republican strategist Karl Rove, former Reagan chief of staff James Baker, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.

And there’s also the Koch brothers’ “confab.”

While Romney and his Republican allies are busy cultivating donors in Utah, the Koch brothers will be in San Diego holding a convention designed to help them generate hundreds of millions of dollars to advance conservative causes. At least we think they will: The event is shrouded in secrecy, and neither representatives for Koch Industries nor a number of expected attendees contacted by CBS News would even confirm that it is taking place.

Word got out last week that it was indeed happening, when Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard confirmed its existence – and San Diego location – to Politico. In an apparent attempt to head off protesters and potential infiltrators, organizers and attendees will not say exactly where the convention will be held; a San Diego alternative newspaper is holding a “Find the Koch Brothers Confab” contest in order to figure it out. (CBS News’ attempts to confirm the venue have thus far been fruitless, though we have our suspicions.) Liberals have their own version of the Koch brothers’ confab called The Democracy Alliance, where security is similarly strict; both events are awash in security personnel looking to escort uninvited guests (such as reporters) off the premises.

The Boston Globe has an article about Mitt Romney’s history with Michael Milken, “the junk bond king.”

It was at the height of the 1980s buyout boom when Mitt Romney went in search of $300 million to finance one of the most lucrative deals he would ever manage. The man who would help provide the money was none other than the famed junk-bond king Michael Milken.

What transpired would become not just one of the most profitable leveraged buyouts of the era, but also one of the most revealing stories of Romney’s Bain Capital career. It showed how he pivoted from being a relatively cautious investor to risking his reputation for a big payoff. It is one that Romney has rarely, if ever, mentioned in his two bids for the presidency, perhaps because the Houston-based department store chain that Bain assembled later went into bankruptcy.

But what distinguishes this deal from the nearly 100 others that Romney did over a 15-year period was his close work with Milken’s firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. At the time of the deal, it was widely known that Milken and his company were under federal investigation, yet Romney decided to go ahead with the deal because Drexel had a unique ability to sell high-risk, high-yield debt instruments, known as “junk bonds.”

The Obama campaign has criticized the deal as showing Romney’s eagerness to make a “profit at any cost,” because workers lost jobs, and challenged Romney’s assertion that his business background best prepares him for the presidency. Romney, meanwhile, once referred to the deal as emanating from “the glorious days of Drexel Burnham,” saying, “it was fun while it lasted,” in a little-noticed interview with American Banker magazine.

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy asks whether Hispanics can “save Obama.”

I’ve decided to post some in-depth interviews with campaign officials, politicians, policy wonks, and others with something worthwhile to say. The first one, which you can read in full below, is with Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for Economic Progress and at the Century Foundation.
An expert on demography and polling data, Teixeira co-authored a very influential 2002 book titled “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which argued that the Republican era that started in the late nineteen-sixties was coming to an end.

Many of the things that Teixeira and his co-author John Judis identified ten years ago—the rising number of Hispanic voters, an emerging gender gap between the two parties, and a shift to the Democrats among urban professionals—played into Obama’s victory in 2008. Despite Republican gains in the 2010 midterms and Mitt Romney’s recent rise in the polls, Teixeira believes that Obama is still well placed on the basis of demography and geography. “All the trends we identified that helped lead to Obama’s 2008 victory have continued apace,” he told me.

The rapidly growing Hispanic vote is particularly important, Teixeira insists. In Nevada, for example, it is now approaching twenty per cent, and the overall minority-vote share is close to forty per cent. And Mitt Romney, after taking a hard line against illegal immigration during the primaries, has no credible way to reach Hispanics. “I think they’re stuck, and I think they know they are stuck,” Teixeira said.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods today?