• Your property? Yeah, right, pal. I got friends who want it

    The headline: “Chicago Alderman Who Told Businessman to ‘Come Back To Me On Your Knees’ Sued for Abuse of Power (Reason’s Hit and Run blog)

    Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno wanted to help a business [Double Door Music Hall] that had contributed to his campaign coffers. So he told Brian Strauss, a firefighter and property owner, to rent his building to the business or suffer the consequences. When Strauss refused to comply, Moreno made good on his threats, downzoning Strauss’s building and scuttling multiple attempts to sell the property.

    Strauss is now suing, arguing that Moreno’s abuses of his aldermanic powers violate Strauss’ rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. –Reason blog

    The story Reason reports is grotesque.

    The key for outsiders to understand: Chicago alderman hold tremendous power to zone buildings within their ward. That power to zone translates, naturally, into campaign donations from people with zoning needs.

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    Strauss’ family has owned the building housing Double Door since the 1960s. It’s in a now-popular area. According to Strauss, Double Door had violated their lease and he wanted to evict them.

    That’s when Alderman Moreno, the recipient of campaign donations from Double Door, stepped in–with rage and power:

    “I’m tired of hearing about the sympathy of you and your family,” the alderman reportedly told Strauss and his attorney at one meeting. “Double Door is going to be in that building, there will never be another tenant in there, there will never be another sign on that building.”

    Over the coming months, Moreno—in meetings brokered and attended by staffers for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—tried to get Strauss to sell his building to Double Door for $7 million, despite its market value of nearly $10 million.

    When that failed, the alderman started introducing downzoning proposals for Strauss’s property that would have made it off limits for most business uses. In June 2017, Moreno even tried to reclassify the building as a residential unit, which would prohibit practically all commercial uses.

    That failed, but in September the city council did pass a downzoning ordinance, which prevents Strauss from converting his property to a general restaurant, a bar, or even, ironically, its previous use as concert venue.

    In a very public, and very disturbing, encounter with Strauss, Moreno made clear his zoning changes were all about extracting concessions.

    “You can come back to me on your knees, which is going to happen,” he raged. “It’s gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family.” –Reason blog

    In fact, Strauss has tried to sell but he says three sales have fallen through because of the zoning changes.

    Now, he’s suing, saying that Moreno’s “extreme and outrageous” conduct amounts to a taking of his property without due process.

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    CBS2 Chicago investigated. Their findings confirm Moreno’s bullying behavior, some of it caught on cell phone video.

    Their headline: [CBS] 2 Investigators: Alderman Threatens To Ruin Landlord’s Business

    In the video, Moreno says he’s upset over the “tragedy” of the club’s closing.

    “It’s a part of life,” Strauss says.

    “Right,” Moreno says. “And part of life is also that you’re not going to have a tenant in here for three years.”

    The fight reportedly stems from Moreno wanting to keep the Double Door, a campaign donor, in the building. –CBS2 Chicago

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    Another news investigation, this one by a former Inspector General for the city, has reached the same basic conclusions (Project Six investigations)

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    Comment: If the story reported by Reason and CBS2 is true, then the alderman’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous”–and utterly true to form for Chicago city government.

    Alderman have extensive control over zoning in their wards. Fellow aldermen defer to each other, enjoying the benefits of reciprocity and fearing anything that would undermine it.

    Their power to zone translates into the power to raise donations from anybody with real estate interests.

    It’s the circle of life in politics.

    My question: Why is this only a civil case? The actions alleged ought to be investigated as possible felonies by federal attorneys. (Expecting state attorneys to do such investigations of fellow pols is crazy talk.)

    Thanks to Tom Elia for this story.

  • Didn’t Perry Mason use this defense once? Man arrested for drunkenness claims he “time traveled to warn of aliens”

    The AP news story is here.

    He [claimed he] was from the year 2048.

    The man told police that he wanted to warn the people of Casper [Wyoming] that aliens will arrive next year, and that they should leave as soon as possible. ….

    The man told police he was only able to time travel because aliens filled his body with alcohol. He noted that he was supposed to be transported to the year 2018, not this year. –Associated Press

    Since I have extensive connections with the constabulary, I was able to secure a photograph of the defendant.

     

  • Why Do People Love Detective Stories?

    1 No tags Permalink 0

    I certainly enjoy them, in print, on TV, and in movies.

    Many stories that are not framed specifically as detective stories really are. Perry Mason (the old black-and-white shows) are always “whodunnits.”

    It’s not surprising, then, that I enjoyed Marco den Ouden’s article about why people enjoy detective stories so much (Foundation for Econ. Ed.)

    Most of the article is about den Ouden’s love of Harry Bosch novels, written by Michael Connell, but he advances a general argument, too. Here’s the nub of it:

    That is the appeal of the crime novel, of the police detectives on television and in the movies. We see them as avenging angels, as heroic figures who will stop at nothing. We see them as empathetic warriors who, like Bosch, will not let politics or other impediments stop them.

    Whether it is Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport or Owen Laukkanen’s duo of Windermere and Stevens, we find in these characters the relentless searcher for truth and justice. –Marco den Ouden for FEE

    The search for truth and justice are obviously central, but there are other attractions, too, I think.

    • The pleasure of discerning clues and piecing them together, best exemplified in Sherlock Holmes and the classic “closed room” crimes
    • Trying to understand the suspects’ motives, particularly how different motives might lead to the same deadly outcome
    • Uncovering a dark layer beneath the benign surface of social convention and
    • The chance to immerse yourself in varied social, physical, and historical environments, all while following a strong plot line.

    The weakness, typically, lies in the psychological development of characters (except, at times, the detective).

    So, what do you think?

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 20

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Pres. Trump’s speech to the UN was blunt and aimed squarely at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela 

    It combined two main elements:

    1. A traditional Republican assertion of US military strength and global engagements
    2. Trump’s own nationalist, anti-globalist agenda, praising “strong sovereign nations” (not international institutions) as the basis of global order

    The blunt language attracted a lot of attention. Conservatives (including many who don’t support Trump) were positive. Liberals cringed, longing for Obama’s soft tone, soft policies, and strategic patient.

    He called the nuclear deal with Iran “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.”  He spoke of Iran’s aggressive support of terror and expansion in the Middle East. He specifically spoke about the threat from “Radical Islamic Terror,” words his predecessor never used (and that Trump himself has used less often in recent months).

    He said nothing about “democracy promotion,” a centerpiece of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

    His comment on Venezuela was equally blunt, saying they had turned a rich country into an impoverished failure and done so not because it misapplied socialist policies but because it applied them exactly as they were intended.

    Without using the term “axis of evil,” his speech clearly echoed those themes from Pres. Bush’s War on Terror.

    As CNN put it, “No American President has ever spoken to the world like this,” calling terrorists and some nations “evil.”

    The best comment about the speech came from

     

    Rich Lowery in the National Review Online:

    As someone said on Twitter, never before has been there so much murmuring of “holy sh**” in so many different languages.

     Two natural disasters: 

    1. Cat 5 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds, the second major hurricane within a month
    2. Mexico suffers a 7.1 magnitude quake.

    Numerous casualties and fatalities from both, unfortunately.

    Comment: The best way to keep up with news about each is with your favorite breaking-news site online. The cable channels will show you the gritty aftermath but take hours to give you the hard news you can get in a few minutes reading.

    Republicans on the hill embrace big tax cuts, even if they increase the deficit (New York Times)

    Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

    The Republican lawmakers, under mounting pressure to score a legislative win on taxes, say a tax cut of this magnitude will stimulate economic growth enough to offset any deficit impact.

    Yet critics say a deficit-financed tax cut is at odds with longstanding Republican calls for fiscal discipline, including that tax cuts not add to the ballooning federal deficit.

    Comment: Tax bills must originate in the House, which is dribbling out some information but not the key details. Those should come in the next week or so.

    Former Chicago cop, wanted for shaking down drug dealers, has been arrested in Detroit after 15 years on the run (Chicago Tribune)

    He and his gang of corrupt officers were tripped up in 2001 when they tried one ripoff while the dealer happened to be on the phone with his girlfriend. She mistakenly thought another drug dealer was the robber and called the cops. Honest cops showed up, saw what was happening, and that was the beginning of the end.

    Turkey increasingly uses its thuggish, dictatorial tactics in Western democracies. It did it again this week

    They did it in May, 2017, when Turkish security officers assaulted peaceful demonstrators in Washington, DC. (New York Times report here.)

    This week, they tried to stop a speaker at a conference in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, known as NATO-PA.

    NATO PA organizers asked that MEF remove a speaker, Emre Çelik, from the program in response to a demand issued by the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. MEF removed the speaker from the program, but invited him to address the gathering anyway.

    When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation grew visibly agitated and acted quickly to shut down the event. –Middle East Forum

    Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, spoke plainly about the incident, which was captured on video:

    President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it. –Daniel Pipes

    The MEF report on the incident is here.

    Paul Manafort wants investigations of leaks, which may have come from Special Counsel Mueller’s office, which is trying to rachet up the pressure on Manafort (Reuters)

    “If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” [Manafort’s spokesman said].

    “The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.

    The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort. –Reuters

    Comment: There are several disturbing aspects of this story, all requiring serious investigation. Manafort’s role is obviously one. So is the apparent release of secret information, the presence of a government wiretap on the manager of a political campaign, the possibility President Trump was picked up on the surveillance, and the statements by several Obama administration intelligence officials that they knew of no such surveillance. It is unclear if those officials made false statements under oath.

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  • Armed Robbers Accidentally Run Into Suburban Police Station While Trying to Flee Officers

    This story from NBC5 in Chicago:

    Three Chicago men were charged with armed robbery after they accidentally ran inside a suburban police department while trying to avoid being captured, authorities said.

    Squad cars chased a speeding vehicle along southbound Route 41, exiting on Old Deerfield Road in Highland Park before the vehicle crashed at Richfield Avenue.

    The crash happened adjacent to a parking lot at the Highland Park Police Station.

    Highland Park Deputy Chief Timothy Wilinski told the Chicago Tribune the men tried to flee the scene of the crash, but one was taken into custody in the parking lot of the police station. Two others allegedly continued into the lobby of the building, where they then hid behind a vending machine. Eventually, they too were taken into custody. –NBC 5 Chicago 

    So, to recap:

    ◊ Instead of making a clean getaway, they are chased by the police
    ◊ They crash the getaway car
    ◊ Trying to escape on foot, they run into a police station.

    I have the perfect song for these miscreants. If it wasn’t for bad luck, they wouldn’t have no luck at all.

    ♦ Tip of the hat to Robert May for this gem.

     

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 13

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Bad as Hurricane Irma was, it could have been even worse

    Homeowners’ preparations and evacuations meant relatively few deaths.

    As for the physical damage, it is huge but still smaller than feared. One way to see that is to look at insurance company stocks.

    Today, they are UP. Chicago Tribune headline: Stocks jump as relieved investors buy banks, insurers, tech

    Small insurers, especially ones that do a lot of business in Florida, climbed. … Larger insurers also rallied. … Travel-related companies rose as investors felt their businesses won’t take such a big hit.  –Associated Press via Chicago Tribune

    The most immediate problem now: restoring electric power to millions of homes.

     Apple makes a big noise with its rollout. $1k for new phones. Market is unimpressed (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Comment: Students at elite universities will use the new phones to send selfies at demonstrations against inequality.

     Study: Over 90% of MSM reports on Trump are negative, same as previous studies (Washington Times)

    Comment: To be fair, they do actually hate him.

     Trump’s travel bans finally made it to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the President (Washington Times)

    The ruling, which stays a decision from the 9th Circuit, keeps some 24,000 refugees from entering the US, at least temporarily.=

    Good economic news: Middle-class incomes in US for 2016 were highest in history (in real terms)  (Washington Post)

    These figures from the Census Bureau cover the final year of Pres. Obama’s tenure.

    Median household income rose to $59,039 in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year and the second consecutive year of healthy gains, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent, returning nearly to what it was in 2007 before a financial crisis and deep recession walloped workers in ways that were still felt years later. –Washington Post

    Seattle Mayor, Ed Murray, resigns after fifth person comes forward accusing him of child-sex abuse (Seattle Times)

    The latest accuser: Murray’s cousin. He had been a teenager, like the others.

    The computer scandal engulfing House Democrats continues to widen. Latest news: the IT contractor used a secret server, tried to hide it, and then falsified what was on it (Daily Caller)

    Imran Awan, the Pakistani IT aide who worked closely with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also used Dropbox to back up data, which is illegal for Congressional data.

    Awan had access to all emails and office computer files of 45 members of Congress who are listed below. Fear among members that Awan could release embarrassing information if they cooperated with prosecutors could explain why the Democrats have refused to acknowledge the cybersecurity breach publicly or criticize the suspects. –Daily Caller

    Comment: This scandal receives almost no coverage. That’s a scandal, too.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, September 11

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Remembering those who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

    Those in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the airplanes, and the selfless first responders.

    As the prayer says, “May their memory be for a blessing.”

    Florida’s massive cleanup begins

    Miami Airport closed Monday because of “significant water damage.” Fears for Florida Keys and southwest FL

    Updated coverage in Miami Herald

    Gangs loot in Ft Lauderdale. Smash windows, grab boxes of shoes and clothes from stores (NBC Miami)

    Comment: They will claim to be victims, not the perps, in 3, 2, 1 . . .

    Btw, Houston and south Texas maintained law and order after their disaster. Let’s hope other cities in Florida can, too.

    Speaking of crime, the creator of McGruff, the Crime-Fighting Dog, dies. Jack Keil was 94. (New York Times)

    Comment: He was 650 in dog years.

     Yawn: Hillary criticizes Donald as she rolls out her book. Upset about identity politics . . . when used by others.

    That’s a shocker. She says Trump “used race to win the election” (Washington Post)

    She adds that his inaugural speech was a white-nationalist cry from the gut.

    Comment: Mrs. Clinton is shocked, shocked to discover identity politics is being practiced in America.

    She plans to search high and low to find the political party that relies on it and on divisive ethnic- and racial-mobilization.

    We wish her the best of luck.

    China pushing for lots more electric cars. Global manufacturers rush in, despite risks (New York Times)

    Comment: The main risk is to intellectual property.

    To gain access to their market, the Chinese demand outsiders give away their proprietary technology to local firms.

    First, robot vacuum cleaners. Now, lawnmowers.

    The best ones, by Husqvarna, currently run $2,000 to $3,500. They rely on GPS and advanced electronics, mow 1.25 acres, and have anti-theft devices. (Link to story here)

    Comment: As with all electronics, expect the prices to drop steadily.

    Once manufactures produce really heavy-duty machines, the robots should save enormous $$$ maintaining highways and parks.

    Expect autonomous snow-plows and more over the next few years.

    Equifax: Still neck-deep in trouble after the hack. Their site to see if you have been hacked is returning random results (Slashdot TechCrunch)

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    Hat Tip to

    Michael Lipson for the Equifax story

    ◆ Ed Vidal for Ft. Lauderdale

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 8

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ We are enduring the hardest test of our lifetime for national-disaster response efforts.

    Huge Hurricanes Back-to-Back and a Third Looming

    The number of elderly in South Florida only compounds the potential tragedy.

    Comment: So far, I have been impressed by 

    • The high quality of weather forecasts, often 4-5 days out
    • The learning by federal, state, and local authorities after Katrina
    • The much-greater competence of authorities in Texas than in Louisiana, in Houston than in NOLA, and in FEMA today than under Bush. (Granted, being more competent than NOLA officials is a very low bar.)
    • The exceptional contributions by volunteers in Texas. Here’s hoping for the same in Florida.
    • The absence of looting and other predation after Harvey. (Again, a welcome improvement over Katrina.)

    Here’s hoping the worst weather forecasts don’t come true for Florida, the response is as effective as in Texas, and that the long-term recovery effort lets people rebuild their lives.

    The hack of Equifax computers records is the most massive to date

    It exposes sensitive personal data on 44% of the US population.

    To compound the injury, several executives seem to have sold the company’s stock before the hack was publicly disclosed.

    ZipDialog has a separate post on the mess (link here)

     Rules for dealing with  alleged sexual assault on campus to be rewritten by Department of Education 

    The New York Times gets the basic story right (link here):

    Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.

    Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights. –New York Times

    Comment: The problem is their headline: “Betsy DeVos Says She Will Rewrite Rules on Campus Sex Assault”

    She plans to rewrite the rules on allegations of campus sex assault.

    The key word is “allegation.” That word is missing from the NYT headline.

    The victims deserve thorough, fair investigations, with appropriately harsh penalties for sexual harassment and coercion when those have been proven. At the same time, the accused deserve through, fair investigations and a chance to present their side. The whole point of due process is to sort through the allegations.

    ◆ FIRE, the leading supporter of free speech on campus, uses this headline:

    Education Department says it will finally confront its role in campus due process crisis (FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

    ◆ Competition in Artificial Intelligence: IBM invests $240 million in AI Research Lab with MIT (Forbes)

    Forbes reports IBM is struggling in the area, competing against Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

    The lab will focus on areas like training AI algorithms that don’t require extensive supervision and exhaustive manual labeling of data. Right now, many deep learning systems require people to go through and label each piece of data — like, say, that’s a car in the image.

    In hardware, the lab hopes to move beyond what’s popular in AI today — namely, graphics processors usually made by Nvidia — and start experimenting with processors that don’t rely on traditional chip designs, such as quantum computing, an area IBM has already been pursuing. –Forbes

    Comment: This is another example of how US leadership in basic research in the physical and biological sciences pays off for the larger US economy. A glance at Kendall Square (next to MIT) and Silicon Valley’s close connection to Stanford reinforce this critical point.

    While the Humanities sink into political advocacy, second-rate ideology, and irrelevance to most serious students, the sciences and empirical social sciences continue to advance.

    The Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal continues to unfold (Daily Caller)

    The scandal centers on IT professional, Imran Awan, who (with family members) handled computers and software for lots of Democratic House members, led by DWS.

    Awan was arrested trying to flee to his native Pakistan with significant cash. Federal prosecutors have brought some charges against him and expect to bring more.

    Awan’s wife has already fled to Pakistan.

    Because the family handled sensitive computer work for many Congressmen, they had access to all their computer files.

    Most D’s fired them after the initial investigations turned up serious problems. DWS did not and actually pushed hard against investigators. We still don’t know why.

    It is unclear whether sensitive information was stolen and perhaps sent to overseas entities, used for blackmail, etc.

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