Thursday, January 24, 2008

Feds target the I-20 'border'

Far from the saguaros of the American Southwest, where the majority of thousands of illegals enter the country every month, is another "border."

It's called I-20, and it's the main smuggling artery for "coyotes" once they get their quarry over the border and into a car on the US side. A new Border patrol offensive, Operation Uniforce, is now searching for illegals deeper and deeper along the US interior, even as local law enforcement has started stepping up what some say is a legally dubious role of busting no-doc aliens on their beats (story here) and even in jails.

The AP reports:

Federal agents ran three such operations closer to the border last year: two in Baton Rouge, La., and one in Mobile, Ala. Those efforts seemed to force the smugglers north from I-10 to I-20. So this time, agents picked up and moved deeper into the interior to I-20, some 800 miles from the nearest border crossing, at Brownsville, Texas.

This kind of aggressive surveillance, I think, is more politically palatable than the workforce raids that DHS has carried out in recent years, which tend to yield lots of news photos of families being torn apart.

It's simply moving the border inland, and so far it seems to be effective.

Not sure if they'll be able to stop the most ingenious cases, however, like this one where a coyote sewed three Mexicans into a car's upholstery.

(PIX: Archaelogists work alongside crews erecting a new border fence near Sierra Vista, Ariz.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The 'R' word

"World markets fall on US recession fears."

That headline's not quite as scary as the monster that kicks the head of the Statue of Liberty through Manhattan in "Cloverfields." But for many people, especially in the press, the "R" word has lots of symbolic and political power, and is being trotted out, in some places, with a sense of glee. Meantime, it's scaring the bejesus out of investors, whether big or small. (Story here.)

But as the CSM points out in an editorial today, now is not the time go all wobbly, as Margaret Thatcher once chided George H.W. Bush.

Though it's been jumping at times unsteadily from bubble to bubble, and has a surfeit of challenges facing it, the US economy is fundamentally strong and viable. One is reminded of Jimmy Carter's fixation on the worst of America when confronting high gas prices and runaway inflation in the 1970s. Today's leaders, including President Bush, need to avoid that path.

Key graf:

The wise need to look at the healthy fundamentals more than to the Chicken Littles who sell fear as a commodity and revel in their self-reinforcing predictions.

But such an act of confidence in economic basics isn't a leap of faith, as in "we may have talked our way into believing the economy is bad, so let's talk our way out." Nor does future economic growth rely on bottom-feeding speculators who wait to buy fire-sale "deals" in falling stocks, house prices, or other sectors. Therein lie more bubbles.

Any renewed confidence needs to start at the top, and so far President Bush appears more ready to speak of government rescue packages than to use his bully pulpit to spotlight the market's many bulls. He needs to hit the road rather than the panic button.

Wise words, but let's see who heeds them. Meanwhile stocks rallied today as the Fed adjusted short-term rates by 75 basis points. (Story here).

(PIX: The Kuwaiti stock market.)

Florida's paradox: Iguanas in; people out

A couple of years ago, school administrators in Florida found themselves perplexed: Thousands of expected students never arrived on the first day of school.

It was an early sign of the Sunshine State's extraordinarly population slowdown, where the net in-migration of people -- about 35,000- reached its lowest point since anyone started keeping count (story here). Anecdotally, many former Floridians are landing in Southern burgs like Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., where everything is cheaper and the weather still real nice. Do they miss the beach? Sure.

But how many actual Floridians actually spend much time on the water? With housing and insurance costs peaking, I imagine millions of them experience the water as more of a taunt: A place they used to be able to go, but now can't because they're having to work too hard to keep a roof over their heads.

Florida was once a dream for the American middle class. For many of those who plunged into the swamps, it's now more of a nightmare.

Iguanas, meanwhile, are moving in (story here.)

(PIX: Iguana hunter George Ward on Gasparilla Island, Fla.)

Blogging through the snow ...

Slow blogging lately due to reporting trips, weather, you name it, not 'cause there's nothing to write about. But stay tuned.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tom Brady: Melter of straight guys' hearts

My friend Sean, who wept when the Patriots won their first of three Super Bowls, says -- and I quote -- that he'd go gay for Tom Brady. Apparently he's not alone.

(HAT TIP: Andrew.)

The Blizzard of '08

My friends up North will laugh, but even this sprinkling brought good tidings to Atlanta (especially as it fell on a Saturday, befuddling no rushhour). Jake, of course, luved it.

Got him

Police have arrested the fourth suspect in the murders of DeKalb Police Officers Ricky Bryant, Jr., and Eric Parker. Story here.

'Good Muslim, bad Muslim' act yields clues

Two Georgia boys, one a DeKalb County detective, the other an aspiring terrorist. Both Muslims, and both involved in one of the most fascinating post 9/11 crime dramas I've heard of yet. It's a glimpse into the kind of innovative, vigilant, and difficult, work coming out of local, state and federal squad rooms in our fight against radical Islamists aiming to sow terror in America.

The AJC had a great piece today about the wanna-be jihadist from Dawsonville who planned to capture and behead the Canadian prime minister before authorities caught wind of the plan.

Nut graf:

The transcripts of those secretly recorded conversations reveal that Sediqi and Richards assumed good cop, bad cop roles. Sediqi took it further, playing good Muslim, bad Muslim with Ahmed.

Sediqi handled the language of Islam like a sieve, sifting through all that was good about Ahmed's religious experience — "It's hard especially in American society to keep up what you do," he told him — in search of the bad.

The FBI suspected Ahmed and a Roswell man, Ehsanul Islam "Shifa" Sadequee, of providing material support to militant groups.

But there are also legal and ethical questions being raised, especially by the defense, about whether police treaded off-piste in their deliberations with Ahmed. If this is the alternative to torture, I'll take it any day.

(PIX: Syed Ahmed.)

'Chemistry professors' prove there is 'I' in team

Everybody talks about how there's no "I" in team, and individuals don't win championships, teams do. But we all know it's not entirely true.

Though surely no man or woman can drag a team to a trophy alone, there are those special players whose very presence on the pitch or on the ice (or behind the bench) somehow galvanizes the team.

Here's a cool story about how two hockey players and a coach (our own Don Waddell) can singlehandedly impact a squad's plight. That's a lesson one can take into life and business, as well.

(PIX: Don Waddell, turnaround artist.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Will justice redeem fallen heroes?

Let's keep the families of Dekalb Police Officers Eric Barker and Ricky Bryant, Jr., in our prayers as law enforcement hunts down the last suspect in their murders. Story here.

Key graf:

Bolton said those involved in the crime "can't hide on this one. You might as well give up."

He wouldn't comment on what led investigators to Johnson, saying, "one mis-step by me on information that's not accurate could determine whether these people get the death penalty or not."

Still life with Alice and turkey

Okay, the holidays are behind us, but I stumbled upon this picture that sums up everything I have to be thankful for everyday. Love ya, hon!

Poor 'hoods: Environmental disasters?

Cleaning up poor neighborhoods is hard, not only because there's a lot of scrubbing to do, but community attitudes often run steeply counter to environmental concerns, according to this story from Medill.

Key graf:

"The plant is on her group’s “toxic tours” of the neighborhood. Other stops include a plant that burns leftover chemicals from steel shipping drums; a plastic recycling plant moved to the area from the ritzy, North Shore Lincoln Park neighborhood; a recycling plant that takes garbage from eight other neighborhoods so smells and attracts rats, and a 24-acre former asphalt plant that contaminated 170 nearby homes with cancer-causing chemicals."

This seems to me to be an important story as community values shift in America's intown communities.

Kirkwood patrol in jeopardy

An ambitious plan to pay offduty Atlanta police officers to conduct freelance patrols for Kirkwood is close to going off the rails, at least for the time being, according to sources close to the project.

To fly, the Kirkwood Safety Patrol (KSP) needs 100 subscribers at $250 a year ($300 for businesses), but so far the campaign has only netted 40 subscribers. And there's not much time left. The KSP needs to have all 100 subscribers on board by Jan. 25 in order to be able to launch, as planned, on Feb. 1.

With the neighborhood seeing a 16 percent rise in home burglaries and a smaller increase in car break-ins, the time seems ripe for what is a growing trend in gentrifying urban neighborhoods. But the hesitation may have several sources: APD's Zone 6 HQ is already in the neighborhood, though regular police patrols seem infrequent. The cost, though certainly reasonable, may well be too high for a large percentage of our households.

The problem with this kind of simmering crime is that prosecution is tough. Visible patrols and faster response are probably more likely to drive criminals away, or at least make them think twice about trying something. It's crunch time for Kirkwood, and whether or not the KSP gets off the ground will reveal much about the mindset of our community.

If you are interested in more information or instructions on how to subscribe, click here and then click on "Kirkwood Security Patrol" under the Documents tag.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dawn on the bayou

Georgia's governor is named Sonny Perdue. Lousiana's new governor is named Piyush Jindal -- okay, but most people call him Bobby. (Story here.)

If you put Georgia and Louisana next to each other in a police lineup, the difference is stark. Since the end of Jim Crow, Georgia has grown to become the South's Old Reliable, leveraging a well-placed railroad depot named Terminus into a business giant today known as Atlanta. Millions of people have moved into the state in the last few years.

In the same time period, Louisiana, rich with oil and natural gas in her own right, failed to grasp the essential tenets of change guiding the New South out of its old wifebeating ways and into Polo shirts and khakis. Corruption grew. Poverty rose. David Duke almost got elected in 1990. Katrina hit, as did Jena. By 2006, some 30,000 people a year were hightailing it out of the bayou.

But now Jindal may have broken that dichotomy's mold, a first-generation Indian-American with a distinct bayou brogue and a reborn faith, having gone from Hinduism to Catholicism as a teenager. He, at 36, somehow epitomizes the modern cosmopolitan man with respect for his roots, even if they stretch from Punjab to Jeff Parish. The guy even delivered his own child in a failed bid to reach a hospital with his wife in high labor.

I'm a huge fan of Lousiana, and Chicago is forever sullied to me after Bears fans heckled Saints fans ("Get in your lifeboat and go home," was one reported refrain) during a 2006 playoff visit to the Windbag City.

That barb struck hard. And, ultimately, Bears fans missed the point. Louisiana, with the rough diamond of New Orleans, is a gumbo pot of unbelievable people, unbelievable food, and bold scenery. From my visits there, it's clear that Jindal may be judging the mood perfectly. The old good times are gone, and aren't coming back. But there are new good times ahead. With higher expectations come higher responsibility. By confidently voting in Mr. Jindal, Louisiana is ready for that.

{PIX: A watermelon carved with the state seal and motto, at one of Bobby Jindal's inauguration parties.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Look Smart

Like most things in France, it's either virulently hated or wondrously beloved: The Smart car. Now the car, designed by a watchmaker, is making the pilgrimage to the New World. About 30,000 Americans have already plunked down $99 to get dibs on the first ones as they zoom down the gangways and onto dealer lots this month.

CSM story nut graf:

An auto writer in Business Week last year argued, perhaps wryly, that the Smart may be too smart for Americans in love with "preposterous" vehicles like the Hummer H2. "Vehicles like the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon are necessary for people who pull boats and horse trailers, just as many buy them because they have irrational and selfish insecurities about riding around in anything smaller than a tank."

On the other hand, truck sales are down.

The big question with these little beauties, which retail for about 12 grand, is how they stack up, safetywise, darting between semis on US interstates.

(Pix: They actually have smaller wheels in real life.)

Toddler memo: Don't F with dad!

Family harmony broke down at Zoo Atlanta last week, when gorilla dad Taz broke toddler twin Kazi's leg after she messed with his raisins one too many times.

Nut graf from the AJC:

"He yelled at her" when the youngster grabbed his raisins, he said. He yelled again when she came back for more.

When she came back a third time, the 19-year-old took his daughter to the simian equivalent of the woodshed.

"He picked her up and bit her on the leg," Lawson said. Kazi yelped and scooted back to her brother, Kali, and mom, Kuchi. Taz, order restored, finished his raisins.
Sure, gorilla dad obviously went too far. But as anybody who has experienced an actual todder living in their breathing space knows, the pot can, and doth, boil over.

Kazi will heal up and get over it. She's a good kid.

(Pix: Jake and some other kid wonder what the heck got into that gorilla. It's probably Kazi.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Judges ponder: Can you run 'em out on a rail?

In some countries, it's a fate worse than prison: banishment.

But in America's no longer so tightly knit communities, banishment is still sometimes used to get criminals out of more populous counties, often with the purpose of keeping them away from their victims.
Nut quote from an AP story:

It's a throwback to the dark ages," McNeill Stokes, the defense attorney who argued the case Monday, said in an interview. "The whole point behind this is zealous prosecutors wanting to get rid of problems in their counties."
Georgia judges have gotten around a Constitutional ban on banishment by allowing them to reside in one of the state's 159 counties. That's not so practical, however. Interestingly, DeKalb judges tend to banish criminals to Echols County, on the Florida border, ostensibly because it's such a Godforsaken place that they'll just leave the state instead. Reaction from Echols County is incredulous:

Q: When people think of a place that criminals might be banished to, the typical idea is a place like Siberia.

A: Well, I can tell you this much, there's not a better place to be banished to than Echols County. Some people think it's the jumping-off place; I think it's the jumping-on place. I wouldn't be anywhere else.
Prison is one consequence of breaking the law. The Georgia Supreme Court will now deliberate whether kicking somebody out of the state is an appropriate form of punishment -- or, in itself, illegal.

Better borrowers may also get mortgage relief

This is good news: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has started talking about even more help for struggling mortgage holders, expanding federal relief to include not just subprime mortgagees, but also those with better credit scores who received prime rates at closing. Some 1.8 million adjustable rate mortgages are expected to reset at higher rates in the next two years.

Big picture quote from this story:

On Monday, Paulson had said in a speech in New York that the current housing correction was "inevitable and necessary" following five years of an unsustainable boom which saw sales and home prices hit record levels.

Yes, let's revamp our lending procedures, but I'll argue it's even more important to the economy to keep people in their homes.

(Pix: Paulson speaks, Bush listens.)

Monday, January 7, 2008

The newspaper as meat market

Reporters -- no, let me change that, journalists -- love to self-flagellate. Come to think of it, reporters are too busy swilling Jack down at the race track to think too hard about what the hell they're actually doing with their lives.

Witness how much ink papers give to the supposed demise of their own industry. Journalists should be careful: Write it, and it might happen.

But of course there's something visceral and delectable about actually reading a paper: It gets you away from the constant whirring, clicking and droning of modern life. It's portable, but it doesn't matter if you lose it. It's transporting without pixels. (Can paper make a comeback? Story here. More analysis from Jon Friedman here.)

Newspapers that are making it are finding strong niches and playing those hard. To be sure, print will become more parochial, and more news-letter-y, playing to inside knowledge and expanding on ideas bouncing around the coffee shops. Two examples are the Forward and the Exponent, two Jewish papers that continue to flourish on newsprint. (Story here.)

Nut quote:

Has assimilation damaged their franchises? Goldberg calls the issue "exaggerated" - American Jews are simply "becoming something very different." Tobin sees some shrinkage in the Jewish community but notes a countertrend of Jews "interested in being more Jewish."

The supposed decline of reading hasn't hurt much, either. A Forward reading series, Goldberg notes, "was jammed every month. It became a pick-up place."
The newspaper as pick-up place. See, not all is lost!

Hat tip: Romenesko.

'I'm here from downtown'

Alec Baldwin cracks me up, even when he's taken out of context. Here someone uses his movie lines to crank call a real estate agency. Painful!

Donuts in decline

It pains me to see Krispy Kreme in trouble.

In Raleigh we lived just up the block from one of the original shops, and many a latenite excursion ended behind the brightly lit neon advertising just-baked donuts. (Their secret? Potato flour.)

But how do you chart the rise of a donut empire in a nation obsessed with looking like Kate Moss, whom, according to the Family Guy, can slip between cracks in the floor? It's been tough going since KK went public a few years back (story), and now there's another shakeup (see story here.)

I have to say I broke the habit myself. Maybe it's that they're just too good!

(Pix: A new Krispy Kreme rises.)

Moscow's dreamy 'Crystal Island'

Here's how the Russians are doing urban design (link). Thank the mighty petro-dollar!

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

Urban rat patrols

I see a rat once in a while scurrying down Locust. But the thuggish brood of house cats that patrol the area keeps the rat population mostly relegated to the sewers.

Despite their worsening reputation for killing song birds ('Monsters that Meow' post here), cats are in some quarters being hailed as heroes of the 'hood.

Los Angeles (story here) is employing bands of feral cats for rat and mouse patrol, and are having -- okay, not surprisingly -- great success. Cops are especially thankful, since the first feral cat rat patrol experiment by the group Voice for the Animals eliminated embarrasing station house incidents like mice scurrying across an officer's desk while he's cluing in a suspect.

The real news, however:

The cats generally don't solve the rodent problem by killing rats and mice — although the cats are game for doing so if they catch them. Rather, the cats simply leave their scent. Once rodents get a whiff of feline presence, like gangsters under a gang injunction, they move on.

Plus they're so much cleaner than dogs.

(Pix: Remy escapes again.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Global warming: A lot of hot air?

Clearly, something has changed in the atmosphere. But what?

Answer that question too fast and you'll have a disaster like Kyoto, which tried, rather foolishly, to use the templates of nuclear diplomacy to get nations to cut carbon emissions.

Now we have another "problem": Global warming has, for the time being at least, stopped (story here). Temperatures were no higher last year than they were in 2001. Yet carbon emissions continue to climb.

The problem when you charge a scientific issue with political ideology is that it becomes easy to get sidetracked. Let's continue to work toward reducing carbon emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. That's just smart. But let's not yet assume that we understand perfectly how or why the world is warming, and what our role in that phenomenon is. The fact is, we don't.

(Pix: Greenland's "Warming Islands," revealed as a glacier melted away.)