January 21, 2006

Questions Emerge, and Remain Unexplored, about Farris Hassan’s Excellent Iraqi Adventure

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 3:35 pm

Sometimes a story just doesn’t seem to be “all there.” Cinnamon Stillwell suspected as much in a NewsBusters item on January 10:

Call me overly suspicious, but the story of 16-year-old Farris Hassan traveling to Iraq on a whim strikes me as unbelievable.

Hassan’s interview with Rita Cosby of MSNBC, a Florida newspaper columnist’s skepticism, and a January 18 posting by the Northeast Intelligence Network (NIN), which describes itself as “a small contingent of experienced investigators ….. founded by veteran private investigator Douglas J. Hagmann,” all appear to confirm Stillwell’s suspicions. What is known of Farris Hassan’s saga at this point should also, one would think, raise some red flags with Homeland Security.

First, the NIN entry:

Farris HASSAN, the 16-year-old Pine Crest student from Fort Lauderdale who left he comforts of his $4 million family home on December 11 for Iraq, claimed that he made the trip to put is lessons of his “immersion journalism” class into practice, and selected Iraq out of humanitarian concerns or the Iraqi people.

….. With all of the reporters covering the story, however, it appears that no one did any research into the background of the Hassan family, or made any attempts to verify the young man’s story. If they had, they might have been compelled to ask some very basic – but extremely important questions.

Even the most basic research found that Farris Hassan was NOT enrolled in any journalism class at Pine Crest, which should automatically cast doubt on the true nature of his journey. ….. Also, the school confirmed that the boy’s father, Dr. Redha Hassan not only knew of his son’s intended travels, but authorized his absence, which is inconsistent with his initial public statements.

Further, investigation found a number of other inconsistencies in the public statements made by Dr. Redha Hassan. Although it was initially reported that neither parent knew of the young boy’s intended travels, it was ultimately revealed that Dr. Hassan actually assisted his son. He admitted that he arranged for his son’s flight into Baghdad through his political connections, even though he knew the grave risks to “foreigners” wandering the streets of Baghdad. [According to a January 2, 2005 CNN news story, Hassan's father said that he had helped his son get a visa into Iraq from Beirut. The elder Hassan said he was leaving Iraq himself when the teen called, unable to get into the country from Kuwait. He told him to go to Lebanon and said he spoke with him almost daily].

Perhaps most importantly, research and investigation into Dr. Redha Hassan found that he was arrested by the FBI in 1985 for forging 2000 Iraqi passports and military I.D. cards and seeking to forge 2,000 more. Dr. Hassan asked his next-door-neighbor and print store owner Joel Feinstein to make the passports and IDs. According to Feinstein, Dr. Hassan claimed the documents were for his family in Iraq. Feinstein reported the request to the FBI, and became an operational asset for the federal government, leading to Hassan’s arrest. Also arrested were two of Farris’s uncles and a “pro-Khomeini” activist identified as Salah Jawad Shubber. Interestingly, Dr. Hassan, who also went by the name Redha K. Alsawaf, was also the President of the now defunct Florida non-profit organization World Orphanage & Refugee Relief Foundation at the time of his arrest. Authorities dropped the charges against Hassan, and Shubber ultimately pled guilty to conspiracy charges.

Farris Hassan’s initial stop was Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he claims that he bought a ticket on KLM Airlines. From Amsterdam, Hassan headed to Kuwait City, where he alleges that he tried to cross the Kuwait-Iraq border twice by taxi, but was turned away due to Iraqi elections. At that point, it appears that Hassan sought assistance from his father, who told Farris to travel to Beirut and stay with family friends. Obligingly, Farris spent ten days in Beirut, and while there, met with a media relations officer of the terrorist group Hezbollah at their Central Press Office. This meeting was arranged through the assistance of his hosts – the family’s friends.

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim organization based in Lebanon and tied to Iran. They have a significant presence in Iraq, and an army that is resolved to drive the Americans out of Iraq. Given the family history, the inconsistencies and the public contradictions, could it be that Hassan was going to Iraq to join Hezbollah to fight against the “American occupation?” Perhaps those are the questions that need to be asked.

The CNN story that NIN appears to be referring to (“Dad helped Florida teen get Iraq visa”) states that:

Hassan’s father, Redha Hassan, a medical doctor, told CNN that he had helped his son get a visa into Iraq from Beirut. The elder Hassan said he was leaving Iraq himself when the teen called, unable to get into the country from Kuwait. He told him to go to Lebanon and said he spoke with him almost daily.

When asked why he helped, Hassan said his son had come so far by the time he called that he couldn’t see not helping him.

A lengthy January 12 report by Bob Norman in The Broward-Palm Beach New Times contains essentially the same troubling elements brought up in the NIN post. Norman also notes an MSNBC interview Farris Hassan gave, in which, per Norman, “he basically admitted that his father knew about his travel plans and offered that, while in Lebanon, he’d visited the offices of the Islamist group Hezbollah, which has carried out countless terrorist acts.”

Indeed, in that MSNBC interview, Farris told Rita Cosby that “My dad did not have complete knowledge of all the specific of my plannings, but he knew a bit more than my mother.” He also noted that he met with Hezbollah officials for at least two hours.

It is clear that the story of “Farris Hassan’s Excellent Adventure” has at a minimum become a lot less believable, and that a little more questioning and digging by the Mainstream press might find more — if they care to explore the possibility that they were duped.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE, Jan. 23, 12:10 a.m.: Michelle Malkin has picked up on the increasing reasons for skepticism: “Yup, I let my guard down and fell for the feel-good holiday angle. I hope all the MSM outlets that spread it are going to take a second, harder look at Farris Hassan and his father–and broadcast the rest of the story.”

UPDATE 2:From Jan. 3 (that’s right) at Local10.com — “School: Teen’s Iraq Trip Was Not Result Of Journalism Class: Pine Crest School Does Not Have Such Course.” Where is the curiosity of the WORMs (Worn-Out Reactionary Media, known to most as the Mainstream Media) when we need it?

UPDATE 3: Selected reax:

  • The Thunder Run“This is definitely a story that needs to be tracked and investigated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the dark colored Crown Vic’s show up in the Hassan’s driveway to do some talking again real soon.”
  • Iraq War Today“I have to admit, I didn’t trust this one from the start – it just didn’t sound believable. But I decided to bide my time. Unfortunately, my suspicions may have been correct.”
  • Hyscience“it at least shows that things aren’t always as they seem and that you never know what your neighbor may really be involved in.”

Big Jingjing and Chacha Are Watching You (Chinese and Other Internet Censorship Update)

How cute. How cuddly. How scary. Here are Big Bro and Big Sis:

JJCC

What’s it about? Intimidation (HT RConversation):

Starting today, when netizens visit all the main portals of Shenzhen city, Guangdong, they will see two cartoon figures “Jingjing” and “Chacha” ….. The image of Shenzhen Internet Police will officially be online. From now on, when netizens visit websites and web forums of Shenzhen, they will see these two cartoon police images floating on their screen. Our reporter learned that these are the images of Shenzhen Internet Police, presented by Internet Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau, for the first time in China.

The real Internet Police has existed for a long time.

….. “The main function of Jingjing and Chacha is to intimidate, not to answer questions,” our reporter was told by officials in charge of The Internet Security and Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau. The Internet has been always monitored by police, the significance of Jingjing and Chacha’s appearence is to publicly remind all netizens to be conscious of safe and healthy use of the Internet, self-regulate their online behavior, and maintain harmonious Internet order together.

Where did the names come from? The word “jing cha” means “police” in Chinese.

Stories like this one are why you see The Internet Wall of Shame in the right frame at this blog. Although specific cooperating companies aren’t cited, “friendly intimidation” such as this would not be possible without the active involvement of Wall members Cisco, Yahoo!, and MSN in helping the Chinese government perfect its police state.

Why is the government so worried? Because unrest is growing (HT American Thinker), and, as you can see in the last paragraph of the excerpt, there is a major “eminent domain” element to the unrest:

The number of “public order disturbances” rose 6.6 percent last year, to 87,000. Mass protests that involved “disturbing social order” jumped 13 percent, while those that “interfered with government functions” surged 19 percent, the Public Security Bureau, the national police, told Chinese reporters at a news conference on Thursday that was reported by the New China News Agency.

….. Peasants, migrant workers and former employees of bankrupt state-run factories in the cities – collectively the overwhelming majority of China’s 1.3 billion people – have tended to benefit far less from the prosperity than the budding urban middle class and the party elite.

In 1994, the police recorded about 10,000 protest incidents, but the statistics show that both the frequency and the scale of the unrest have increased rapidly every year since, even as the economy has expanded faster than that of any other major country.

Unrest has worsened especially quickly in the last several years because the government has seized millions of acres of rural land, which peasants can farm but not own, to make way for factories and real estate developments. Compensation is very low and many peasants say they have no choice but to protest to win attention for their claims.

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ALSO: RConversation, who owns the Net censorship topic, also has the following updates:

  • Jan. 12 — Congressional hearings apparently are planned on US companies helping China suppress free speech. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) would conduct these hearings. Also Tim Ryan (D-OH) intends to make this a topic of hearings in The Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
  • Jan. 14 — Other countries are filtering Internet content, only more quietly. “Countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan all use commercial filtering products developed by U.S. corporations.”

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Jan. 21: Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

Kelo Update: I Don’t Want to Believe This

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:18 pm

State entity acquires 105 acres for $1?

You would think that has to be one of those “there has to be more to this” stories.

But I don’t see how — yet (HT Rhymes with Right, who lives in the area):

For years, Seabrook residents have said building the Bayport container facility north of town would hurt property values.

They might be surprised at how much one man got for his tract of land – $1 for 105 acres.
Pasadena land owner Glenn Seureau, II, thinks he was robbed of his by the Port of Houston Authority. He plans to continue an uphill battle with the Port until he is paid fair market value for the land.

One civil court judge, on the other hand, seems to think $1 is compensation enough for Seureau’s land, located just north of Seabrook.

Seureau fought for nearly three years to protect his property, in his family for more than 150 years, from the Port’s power of eminent domain, only to lose his case in May of last year in the court of Harris County Civil Court Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull.

The judge ruled that having paid Seureau $1, the Port now owns the fee simple title to the property. Seureau was also ordered to give back the Port’s previous payment of more than $1.9 million at 5.75 percent interest and pay the Port’s court costs at the same interest rate.
Seureau has appealed the ruling, and he and his attorneys are currently in negotiations with the Port.

Port officials declined to comment on the case, but confirmed that they are working with Seureau to reach an agreement.

Read the rest at the link. If it’s as bad as it appears, it makes Kelo look like petty theft.

This Weekend’s Single Unanswered Question (012106): Will CNN Get Passed by MSNBC?

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,TWUQs — Tom @ 8:12 am

Another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4, but this time just one) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links included may require free registration):

QUESTION: Can MSNBC catch CNN?

It’s not as outrageous a question as you might think — A look at last Wednesday’s ratings the MediaBistro Newser shows that CNN is, with the exception of Larry King, coming in much further behind Fox News than it is ahead of MSNBC. In a couple of isolated cases in the 25-54 demographic, MSNBC is ahead or virtually tied: Hardball beat out Wolf Blitzer and MSNBC’s Countdown is in a virtual tie with Paula Zahn.

What’s more, some media observers see CNN as losing whatever bearings still remained:

CNN is still sick with Fox envy — and it’s only getting worse

These must be great days to work at Fox News. Not only does the 24-hour cable channel beat rival CNN like a sick, sad mule, but Roger Ailes is so deep in the heads of CNN’s managers that every time they stumble over themselves in chaos — which is often — the chairman of Fox News looks like some kind of psyops genius.

….. If you watch CNN or Headline News with any regularity, then you know it won’t be long before the Next Big Blunder. Perhaps that news crawl at the bottom of the screen will read: “We’re Out of Ideas — Try MSNBC.”

….. There’s a sadness here. And it has nothing to do with CNN’s inability to “counter” Fox News with a respectable progressive slate of contributors. CNN used to be a reliable source for national and international news. Now it mostly chases storms and tragedy — and Fox.

For a long time now there has been this perception that Republicans watch Fox News, Democrats watch CNN, and MSNBC picks up the undecideds. But that’s simplistic. Though we may be heading, as a country, into an era where “news” channels will be defined by their ideology, godspeed to anyone left of center who can figure out what CNN wants to be.

The writer criticizes CNN’s recent hires of conservatives Glenn Beck (for a Headline News show), JC Watts, and Bill Bennett, and characterizes them as second-tier, which I guess remains to be seen.

In the meantime, CNN President Jonathan Klein, who became infamous during the height of Rathergate for his “pajamas” comment about bloggers, must be longing for the good old days of the mid-1990s, before Fox News and blogs gave people credible alternatives to WORMs (Worn-Out Reactionary Media, known to most as the Mainstream Media) like CNN.

For those of us old enough to remember, it’s hard to imagine that the news network that had Bernard Shaw reporting on the scene at the Baghdad bombings in The First Gulf War, and that was the only place to go for news during the runup to that war and the war itself, is such an also-ran. But they really did it to themselves. By toeing the liberal line for so many years, they made themselves totally vulnerable to an upstart like Fox.
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UPDATE: The January 19 numbers are worse for CNN. Hardball doubled Blitzer in 25-54 and eked out a win overall at 7 PM.
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SUPPLEMENT: Although it’s a different medium, the big unseen story in all of the noise about “right-wing domination” of news is the mass migration to the liberal home of last resort, NPR (National Public Radio; link requires subscription). The government-subsidized radio network’s weekly listenership grew from 13 million to 25 million during 1998-2005.

Positivity: Internet-Orchestrated Rescues of Thousands of Birds

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:11 am

Talk about a blogswarm — this one came together to save birds abandoned because of Katrina:

Decatur woman’s Web site saved parrots in Katrina crisis

Sitting on McGlathery Lane Southeast in Decatur, The Nature Chest and its owner, Debra Morgan, should have had little connection to Hurricane Katrina. She never drove to the coast to volunteer after the storm. No one called her asking for a contribution to the relief effort.

She was, however, one ant in a worldwide colony that assessed and prioritized need, controlled distribution of supplies and channeled relief funds from distant donors to desperate recipients.

She accomplished her task through the Internet.

Morgan and hundreds of others undertook a narrow role in the hurricane’s aftermath. They wanted to help rescue parrots abandoned by evacuating owners.

She participated in an amazingly efficient system that had no leader.

The first step in the system came soon after bird enthusiasts understood the severity of Katrina. Morgan and hundreds of others expressed, on an Internet bulletin board, their willingness to help.

Step 2 came as postings by evacuees.

“They’d post things like, ‘I had to evacuate and couldn’t take my birds. They’re at such-and-such address,’” Morgan recalled.

The decentralized group, almost entirely through the Internet, began assigning tasks. Volunteers near New Orleans, or with the time to go there, were the worker ants, going into vacant homes and retrieving parrots.

Another group, located near New Orleans, had the role of listing needed supplies. In real time. “We need 200 pounds of bird feed,” or “We need cages.”

Using her Web site and e-mails, Morgan responded. She made sure her Internet customers knew to go to an Internet bulletin board on the rescue effort, and she posted multiple updates to her site every day.

Morgan posted specifics of what she and her customers had donated so other donors wouldn’t duplicate. The group near the coast posted supplies as they received them and as they disbursed them.

Other volunteers housed the rescued parrots, regularly posting specific needs. As they received cages or food or first aid kits, they posted the receipt so others – hundreds of miles away – would send different items.

The Nature Chest’s Web site and the Internet bulletin board became virtual strategy rooms matching donors and recipients.

What the Federal Emergency Management Agency – with tremendous resources and centralized leadership – couldn’t do was accomplished with near-perfect efficiency by a decentralized group of people who, for the most part, had never met each other.

“I think we made a difference,” Morgan said.

Indeed. The collective effort saved thousands of parrots.

Relief Connections, a blog with the sole purpose of matching donors and human recipients, became a clearinghouse for people wanting to help those affected by Katrina. Donors listed supplies as they delivered them. Volunteers, churches and relief agencies in the affected areas posted needed supplies.

The webmaster, referred to as “N.Z. Bear,” would then input the data into a virtual “aggregator” – his term – and update the list of needed supplies.