Sunday, May 2, 2010

Car bomb scares Times Square but fails to explode

New York Times
A crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks was discovered in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on Sunday the authorities were still seeking a suspect and motive.

“We are very lucky,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a 2:15 a.m. press conference. “We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.”

A large swath of Midtown — from 43rd Street to 48th Street, and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues — was closed for much of the evening after the Pathfinder was discovered just off Broadway on 45th Street. Several theaters and stores, as well as the South Tower of the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated.

Mr. Bloomberg was joined by Gov. David A. Paterson, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and other officials at the early morning press conference to give a chronology of the van’s discovery, its disarming, and the investigation that has been launched. The mayor and police commissioner had returned early from the annual White House correspondent’s dinner in Washington.

At 6:28 p.m., Mr. Kelly said, a video surveillance camera recorded what was believed to be the dark green Nissan SUV driving west on 45th Street.

Moments later, a t-shirt vendor on the sidewalk saw smoke coming out of vents near the back seat of the SUV, which was now parked awkwardly at the curb with its engine running and its hazard lights on. The vendor called to a mounted police officer, the mayor said, who smelled gunpowder when he approached the SUV, and then called for assistance. The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s.

Police officers from the emergency service unit and firefighters flooded the area, but were troubled by the hazard lights and running engine, and by the fact that the SUV was oddly angled in the street. At this point, a firefighter from Ladder 4 reported hearing several “pops” from within the vehicle. The police also learned that the Pathfinder had the wrong license plates on it.

Members of the Police Department’s bomb squad donned protective gear, broke the Pathfinder’s back windows and sent in a “robotic device” to “observe” it, said Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the police department’s chief spokesman.

Inside, they discovered three canisters of propane like those used for barbecue grills, two five-gallon cans of gasoline, consumer-grade fire works — the apparent source of the “pops” — and two clocks with batteries, the mayor said. He said the device “looked amateurish.”

Mr. Browne said: “It appeared it was in the process of detonating, but it malfunctioned.”

Bomb squad officers also discovered a two-by-two-by-four foot metal box — described as a “gun locker” — in the SUV that was taken to the police department’s firing range at Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx to be destroyed, Mr. Kelly said. It was not immediately known what, if anything, was inside it.

Officials said they have no reports of anyone seen running from the vehicle. Mr. Kelly said police were scouring the area for any additional videotapes but noted that the SUV’s windows were tinted, which could further hamper any efforts to identify those inside. Some of the surveillance cameras nearby were located in closed businesses, and the mayor made clear it would take time to review all available tapes.

“We have no idea who did this or why,” said Mr. Bloomberg.

Kevin B. Barry, a former supervisor in the New York Police Department bomb squad, said that if the device had functioned, “it would be more of an incendiary event” than an explosion.

The license plates on the Nissan were registered to another vehicle — a Ford pickup truck that was taken to a junkyard near Bridgeport Connecticut within the last two weeks, according to a law enforcement official. The previous owner of the Ford was interviewed Saturday night by the F.B.I., but it did not appear he was regarded as a suspect. Still, the junkyard was considered a primary target of the initial investigation.

The SUV’s standard vehicle identification number had been removed, Mr. Bloomberg said, and investigators were scouring it to see if the number appeared elsewhere.

The White House said President Obama had been briefed on the episode and had pledged federal assistance in the investigation.

Times Square on a Saturday night is one of the busiest and most populated locations in the city, and has long been seen as a likely target for some kind of attack.

Just before 3 a.m. on Sunday, the streets remained closed. A maze of metal barricades kept pedestrians south of 43rd Street. In the center of Times Square, dozens of police and fire vehicles were parked on Broadway and Seventh Avenue, but in Times Square between 42nd and 43rd Streets, tourists milled or sat at tables, much as they do on any other Saturday night. On Eighth Avenue at around 11:30 p.m., people carrying theater playbills were directed west on 44th Street out to Eighth Avenue.

On 8th Avenue police officers used large pieces of orange netting to corral pedestrians and separate them from traffic.

Many people stayed to watch after being shut out of Broadway shows or prevented from getting back to their hotels, trading rumors about what was happening. Many guests at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel at 1535 Broadway were being kept in an auditorium at the hotel, Mr. Kelly said.

Some theaters were evacuated, but many were not, according to a spokeswoman for the Broadway League, the trade group of theater owners and producers. The spokeswoman, Elisa Shevitz, said she would not have all the details about how many theaters were affected until Sunday.

For some Broadway shows the curtains went up 15 to 30 minutes late. Shows that started late included “Red” and “God of Carnage” — which are both playing at houses on the block of 45th Street where the bomb was found — and “In the Heights.”

Onlookers crowded against the barricades, taking pictures with cellphones, although only a swarm of fire trucks and police cars was visible.

Pota Manolakos, an accountant from Montreal, was not able to return to her room at the Edison Hotel with her husband and 6-year-old son for several hours.

She said she asked a police officer what was going on, and the officer told her: “Lady, take you kid and get out of here. There’s a threat, take your kid and get out of here.”

“We have nothing with us except for what we have on,” Ms. Manolakos said.

Gabrielle Zecha and Taj Heniser, visiting from Seattle, had tickets to see “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theater on 45th Street but could not get into the 8 p.m. show because the area was blocked off. But they made the best of the spectacle. “It’s a whole different kind of show,” Ms. Heniser said, adding, “It’s almost the equivalent of a $150 show.”

A group of people on a high school senior trip from Jacksonville, Fla., said they were stuck for about an hour and a half in the Bubba Gump restaurant at 44th Street and Seventh Avenue.

“A lot of people were getting tense who were there longer than we were,” said Billy Wilkerson, 39, a police sergeant in Jacksonville and a chaperone for the trip. “It’s so good to get out, but it was exhilarating.”

He said he was impressed by his New York counterparts. “I just sat back and learned a lot,” he said.

Fabyane Pereira, 35, a tourist from Brazil, said the episode would not deter her from another visit. “I feel sorry for America,” she said. “I’m at your guys’ side.”

In December, the police closed Times Square for nearly two hours as they investigated a suspiciously parked van, delaying the rehearsal of the New Year’s ball drop. However, the van turned out to contain nothing but clothing.

Jamiat’s hooliganism

Enough is enough. The hooliganism of the Punjab chapter of the Islami Jamiat Tulaba needs to be checked forthwith and immediate efforts are required to rein in the elements inclined towards violence that call the shots in that student organisation.
Friday’s incident at Punjab University, which saw IJT activists thrashing security personnel, cannot be viewed in isolation. In April, IJT students attacked a professor, Iftikhar Baloch, but the principal accused managed to evade arrest, possibly on account of his political connections. Almost at will, IJT members disrupt any function at Punjab University that features music and intimidate people who choose to mingle with the opposite sex. They are dominating the campus with their obscurantist views and the administration looks the other way more often than not. Why is that? Are they scared of the Jamiat? Or could it be that the Zia era and the rule of the Sharifs saw the induction of faculty and non-teaching staff that shares the bigoted views of the IJT?Campuses in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, isolated incidents notwithstanding, are not held hostage in this way. For all their faults, student organisations there somehow manage to counterbalance the influence of people opposed to progressive thought. In Punjab, however, the IJT does what it deems fit in any given situation and usually gets away with it. It would be unfair to say that the free rein enjoyed by the IJT in Lahore and elsewhere in the province is indicative of a Punjabi mindset. What is more likely is that the political elite of the Punjab endorses the same ‘conservative’ views espoused by the IJT. The student wings of the various incarnations of the Muslim League seem to be no match for the IJT, but that raises yet another question. Do they share a common cause or is the muscle of the IJT, built up over the decades with the patronage of the politically insecure, simply too intimidating to confront? The Punjab government needs to step in here and stem the rot. Otherwise it will be seen as a party to a cause that no right-thinking person can support.

The dangers of embedded journalism, in war and politics

The American news media has made great use in recent years of a practice called embedding, in which journalists travel with the U.S. military to cover wars.I've taken advantage of this chance to see the military up close. I have traveled to war zones with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; with Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander; and many others. I've spent weeks at a time visiting U.S. units in the field, hopping C-130s and Blackhawk helicopters and Humvees. As a result, I have seen more of Iraq and Afghanistan than I possibly could have otherwise, and I think my readers have benefited.But embedding comes at a price. We are observing these wars from just one perspective, not seeing them whole. When you see my byline from Kandahar or Kabul or Basra, you should not think that I am out among ordinary people, asking questions of all sides. I am usually inside an American military bubble. That vantage point has value, but it is hardly a full picture.I fear that an embedded media is becoming the norm, and not just when it comes to war. The chroniclers of political and cultural debates increasingly move in a caravan with one side or another, as well. This nonmilitary embedding may have a different rationale, but there's a similar effect that comes with traveling under the canopy of a particular candidate, party or community. Journalists gain access to information and talkative sources, but also inherit the distortions and biases that come with being "on the bus" or "on the plane."The larger troubles of the news business are complicated, but this problem is simple: We can't understand what we don't see; we can't explain a conflict if we hear from only one side.
Embedding arose because American journalists requested it. During the Persian Gulf War, many reporters were stuck covering the action from the rear in Dhahran or Riyadh. A few managed to travel with U.S. units into the battle zone, producing vivid reports, such as Molly Moore's Washington Post dispatches from the forward outpost of the Marine commander. But many of the embedded reports were delayed or clumsily vetted by the military.After the war, U.S. media outlets pleaded that this sort of access be expanded. And the next time, it was. The Pentagon realized that having journalists witness war from the limited but exhilarating perspective of a Humvee racing toward Baghdad was very much in its interest. So as we prepared to cover the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, my colleagues rushed to make arrangements to be embedded with the commands that would see the most action.Indeed, I think one reason for the news media's inadequate examination of the rationale for war in late 2002 and 2003 was that we knew President George W. Bush had already made his decision -- the Army was lined up in the desert, after all -- and most editors were focused on figuring out how best to report it.I covered the war as an unembedded or "unilateral" reporter, entering Iraq two days after the invasion with colleagues in rented SUVs. That experience taught me two things: First, it is too dangerous, in most cases, to cover modern warfare without protection from an army. Second, although my visits were brief, I was able to see things that the embedded journalists could not. I remember visiting villages in southern Iraq after the U.S.
Army rolled through and finding local people who were intimidated by the beginnings of the insurgency. (And yes, you could see in that first week that there would be an insurgency, as I tried to indicate in my reports.)
As violence spread throughout Iraq in late 2003 and 2004, and as insurgents employed kidnapping as one of their weapons, it became all but impossible for Westerners to travel freely. To move anywhere outside central Baghdad, it was wise to embed. American reporters typically embedded with U.S. units, spending a week or two with them. Some Arabic-speaking reporters working for the Iraqi or international media were able, in effect, to embed with the insurgents and report what the war looked like from their side. A few brave Westerners did that, too.This counter-embedding was dangerous, to put to mildly. The most graphic evidence is the horrifying footage of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007, posted recently by WikiLeaks, which shows the deaths of a Reuters camera crew and about 10 others.
I should also note that my brave colleagues residing in Kabul and Baghdad do not embed on a permanent basis. Living out in the Red Zone, as it were, with normal people, they have earned the right to be called free and independent journalists, at great personal risk. But they also know that to cover the action -- to get to Kandahar, or Marja, where I was a month ago -- they usually have no alternative but to embed.Foreign correspondents like to believe that they travel with an implicit "white flag" -- a pledge of independence and neutrality that will be respected by everyone. But we don't live in that world. We live in an embedded world, in which journalists are often required to take sides, or to see things from only one side, as a condition of doing their job. In this world, it is hard to blame an Al-Jazeera viewer for thinking that Fox News cares about only one side of a war, or a Fox viewer for feeling the same way about Al-Jazeera. That is a poisonous and dangerous divide.It is also an unprofessional one. Embedding may be necessary for war reporters, but it isn't for most other journalists. Yet the culture of observing events from "inside" a community is becoming more prevalent. Partly it is a result of technologies and platforms (the Web, social media networks) that have carved mass audiences into particular niches. When the information landscape was dominated by three networks and a few major newspapers, journalists were trained to report for everyone.
Now, niche audiences want more intimacy and connection -- even if that means less old-school independence and objectivity.
When you watch a report on Fox News or on MSNBC, you get a sense that the reporters know who the "good guys" are. I felt that acutely as I watched the two networks' coverage of the Massachusetts Senate special election, won by Republican Scott Brown in January. I feel it in the coverage of Wall Street and its congressional critics; one side or the other is implicitly the home team, depending on what you watch or read. There's a larger narrative, beyond the facts, that is conditioning how a story is covered.The decline of the old fairness-tethered news organizations -- now derided as the "mainstream media" -- has been accompanied by the rise of more ideological outlets. That's obvious on cable television, where the journalists and viewers of Fox News and MSNBC know who they're rooting for. I saw a CNN ad recently that looked almost forlorn by comparison. "The truth doesn't take sides," the promo insisted. "The facts aren't red or blue." But CNN is getting clobbered in the ratings. It seems that unembedded doesn't sell.If cable news is ideologically embedded, Web sites such as the Huffington Post and Daily Kos and and the Drudge Report are even more so. There's a similar sense of being inside the clubhouse with Politico and its reporter Mike Allen, who is the town crier for a niche community of Washington insiders.These sites feel congenial to their audience in part because they rarely challenge readers' ideas and beliefs -- they reinforce them. The message is: You and your values are right, and those who disagree are wrong. In such a situation, the facts can also be up for grabs.Too often, news consumers don't want to be challenged. They want to be informed, yes, but also bolstered in their views. And here's the part that worries me most (and not just because it threatens my paycheck): Many consumers of news seem to trust the new ideologically embedded media over the traditional independent media. They think The Washington Post has an agenda; they think the mainstream media as a whole are tainted and biased.I would not pretend that traditional journalists are free of implicit, unexamined biases. In the name of non-ideological reporting, we tend to converge toward the center, forgetting that bipartisanship, in itself, is an ideological statement. Too often, mainstream journalism doesn't see or report what's on the wings, right and left. In the name of open debate, we sometimes have the effect of narrowing it. My own implicit bias for the center is sometimes painfully obvious in my columns. It skews my judgment.The traditional media is adapting, for better or worse, adding blogs and other features that give readers an intimate feeling of being inside a particular network. One of The Post's fresh young voices, blogger Ezra Klein, clearly has a point of view on the policy debates he covers. If he made a fetish of neutrality, he would be less interesting. But I wouldn't want a news diet of all Ezra Kleins, all the time.My worries about embedding are one reason I balk at proposals for public funding of important media institutions. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger argues for more government grants, like the subsidies offered to PBS and Britain's BBC. And in a study for the Columbia School of Journalism, former Post editor Leonard Downie and Michael Schudson recommend a mix of private donations, foundation support and a national Fund for Local News, with fees collected by the Federal Communications Commission.
I understand the rationale, but I worry that direct government support would undermine our claims of independence and integrity.
We need to restore the white flag; we need to reassure people everywhere that we have checked our baggage -- national, ideological, cultural, political and religious -- at the door when we become journalists.
The path back to unembedded journalism won't be easy, especially for war correspondents. It's one thing to want to interview both Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and quite another to actually get to talk to them. But we should operate under the assumption that we won't always be at war, and try to restore the normal order.
The niche communities and social networks won't go away. There will be continuing demand for their version of embedded reporting. But we journalists have to remind ourselves that in this new world, we are still in the business of upsetting people, including those we know and like best. The conservative columnist who tells off Rush Limbaugh is a kindred spirit with the liberal who blasts Keith Olbermann. Our late Post publisher Katharine Graham once chided some of us, "Just because you are getting attacked from both the left and right doesn't mean you're doing a good job." She was right, but it's still a useful index.
We all need to break away from the caravan and the special access it allows -- even that venerable caravan in the center of the highway -- and try to get the story right.

Obama Targets Advisers, Birthers, GOP for Laughs

President Barack Obama offered a bit of wisdom to a ballroom filled with celebrities, political insiders and journalists: There are a few things in life harder to find and more important to keep than love.

"Well, love and a birth certificate," he quipped at Saturday's black-tie White House Correspondents' Association dinner, poking fun at the so-called birther movement, which questions whether the president was born in the United States.

"I happen to know that my approval ratings are still very high in the country of my birth," Obama joked.

The president then took aim at Jay Leno, the comedian headlining the dinner, saying the talk-show host was "the only person whose ratings fell more than mine."

Obama also cracked jokes about Vice President Joe Biden and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

But Republicans were the butt of many presidential punch lines.

Although his poll numbers are down, he said, he hears he's popular on Twitter and Facebook.

"Or as Sarah Palin calls it, the socialized media," he added.

Leno later picked up on the same theme, saying the president isn't as aloof as some critics claim.

"He loves to socialize — health care, car companies," Leno said, naming industries where the Obama administration has intervened.

On a serious note, Obama acknowledged the vast problems facing the Gulf Coast, which is threatened by an oil spill that could be of epic proportions. He planned a trip to the area Sunday for a firsthand assessment of efforts to contain the massive crude oil leak from an offshore drilling rig operated by the oil company BP.

Among the 3,000 guests attending the annual gala were celebrities Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dennis Quaid, the Jonas brothers, Justin Bieber, Jessica Simpson, Michael Douglas and Steven Spielberg.

Mingling with the crowd were political notables, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

Jashn-e-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’ today

KARACHI: In order to avoid any untoward incident, as many as 1,500 officials of security forces in collaboration with over 5,000 volunteers of the Awami National Party (ANP) have been assigned for the security of ANP’s ‘Jashn-e-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’, which will be held today (Sunday), police officials and ANP leaders informed Daily Times on Saturday.
These security measures have been taken in light of targeted killings, bomb blasts and suicide attacks, which claimed many precious lives in the past.
ANP’s Jashn-e-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is being organised at the main Sea View, Clifton, which will start at 3pm and continue till midnight to celebrate the renaming of NWFP with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Besides, cultural dances, Pukhtoon’s party song and fireworks, leaders would address the celebration.
ANP Sindh leader Shahi Syed would be the main speaker of the event. Although ANP central chief Asfandyar Wali Khan’s presence is also included in the schedule, he might not attend the event due to security concerns.
A musical programme will also be held in which prominent national singers will participate to make the celebration more colourful. Four parking zones have been made for at least 20,000 vehicles near Sea View.
The participants from district east, west, central and south would join the main procession through their specific routes and security measures have also been categorised separately for the VIP guests as well as the media.
The ANP has installed camps and hoisted party’s flags and banners in various parts of the city, especially the Pukhtoon dominated areas and the routes leading to the main procession to welcome its participants.
While the ANP is overjoyed about its Jashn-e-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, at the same time, it is worried about any kind of violence and terrorism at the occasion.
“In Karachi, we are concerned that our rival political party could do anything to disrupt the programme, as it is afraid that the Pukhtoons might gain strength in the city as they have always created hurdles in the past when we tried to display our strength,” ANP spokesperson Qadir Khan told Daily Times. “We have already informed the government and police high-ups in this regard and they assured us of their cooperation.”
The spokesman said, besides the deployment of the police and Rangers personnel, at least five thousand volunteers of the ANP have also been assigned for security purpose.
On the other hand, police and intelligence experts have also warned about the potential threats of violence and terrorism and said that Friday’s explosion in Soldier Bazaar police precincts was a ‘testing’ by the elements to disrupt ANP’s celebration. Nonetheless, ANP’s Khan also agreed with it and said that such elements could target the participants of the rallies en route to the central procession by target killings or minor explosions as well as targeting the main procession as they have intensions to fail the celebration. “Participants would be able to enter the main procession after being checked six times at the entrance,” Khan added.
On the other hand, Karachi police chief Wasim Ahmed, when contacted, said that the police have taken all precautionary measures ahead of the ANP procession and assigned routes for the participants to join the main procession and they would also provide security on the routes leading to the main procession. “About 1,500 law enforces would be deployed for the security purpose to avoid any untoward incident as anything could happen at anytime with anyone,” Ahmed said. “Display of weapon is not allowed and the ANP has also assured us in this regard.”

Designer Has Fan at Top, but Too Few at the Stores

New York Times
Fashion and politics are seasonal and unpredictable, yet the two came together quite well here for the hometown designer Maria Pinto and Michelle Obama, whose first memorable bursts onto the national scene were often in Pinto creations.
Remember the purple sheath Mrs. Obama wore the night of the fist bump heard round the world? The teal number at the Democratic National Convention? Or the red dress she wore to meet the Bushes on their way out of the White House? Maria Pinto all, designed right here where both women were born and raised and, over the course of one remarkable election, became stars.

So when Ms. Pinto abruptly put up a “closeout sale” sign in the window of her West Loop boutique and announced that she was folding her fashion business, Chicago — and Pinto devotees all over — reacted with disbelief: What in sartorial heaven happened? “I pushed as far as I could,” Ms. Pinto, 53, said in her first lengthy interview since the demise of her store and wholesale operations in mid-February.

Just back from a month’s break in Barcelona, she pointed to the strain that a sour economy had placed on her business just as it was expanding and gaining major traction beyond a loyal Chicago following.

But Ms. Pinto acknowledged having made some typical startup mistakes in building her brand, in areas like financial management and operations.

After 16 years of designing out of a somewhat anonymous atelier, she opened the boutique, named after herself, in August 2008, capitalizing on a wave of enthusiasm for her work, as displayed mostly by Mrs. Obama on the campaign trail. She also increased her wholesale operations and had been maintaining a showroom in New York.

While Mrs. Obama diversified her style after becoming first lady (she has been drawn to high-end designers like Jason Wu and Narciso Rodriguez, as well as brands like J. Crew), she still sported Maria Pinto every now and then. But even high-profile support of the brand, priced in the hundreds and thousands of dollars, could not save it from the reality of the Great Recession.

The real problems started right after the introduction of the spring 2010 line in New York last September, Ms. Pinto said. “They loved the line,” she said. “I was like, where are the orders? O.K., this is not a good sign.”

Pinto was carried at stores like Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Takashimaya — a store whose New York location will soon be closing its doors, another victim of the recession.

“She’s such a highly regarded talent,” said Anne Brouwer of McMillan Doolittle, a Chicago firm that specializes in retail analysis. “It was certainly a really difficult time to open.”

Still, fashion watchers said her style helped define a moment. “As a fan of the first lady’s, I was discovering Michelle Obama’s style influence, and Maria Pinto was part of that story from the very beginning,” said Mary Tomer, creator of, a blog devoted to Mrs. Obama’s clothes.

But Mrs. Obama chose from the conservative end of Ms. Pinto’s collections, which also included pieces like leather jeans, dresses of sassy feathers and kangaroo jackets. There is so much more the designer wishes she could have been known for.

“Yes, it was heartbreaking and very sad,” Ms. Pinto said of the last few months. “The good news is that my creativity goes with me anywhere I go.”

For now, it will go into yoga, gardening, painting — and a lot of soul-searching.