The Morning Jolt

Relax, It’s Just Routine Explosive Material in a Bag!

I’m back, after a quiet week of Brexit fallout, a terrorist attack in Istanbul, terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, a terrorist attack in Bangladesh, a bunch of huge Supreme Court decisions, Hillary’s interview by the FBI, and Donald Trump’s infamous “sheriff’s star” tweet. Slow week!

Relax, It’s Just Routine Explosive Material in a Bag!

You heard about that young man who had to have his foot amputated after an explosion in Central Park? Relax, it’s just routine explosive material in a bag!

Police said the explosive material was not a device and probably was not meant to be triggered by someone stepping on it. They said it appeared that someone may have hidden the material in the park. They said it appeared to be an “experiment” and may have been created by someone trying to produce a homemade firework.

Police said they do not believe terrorism is involved. A sweep of the park by sniffer dogs had not turned up additional explosive material. Police do not think Golden and his friends created the explosive material.

Our Kevin Williamson suspiciously eyes the quick insistence that it was not terrorism:

When an Independence Day visitor to New York City got his foot blown off by a bag of explosives left in Central Park, the first thing that the authorities did was to reassure us that this was not an act of terrorism.

The first version of the story, trumpeted on CNN and elsewhere, was risible: People try to make homemade fireworks around Independence Day, and that’s probably what this was. And, truly, who among us could fail to appreciate the rich tradition of lovable, ungovernable scamps growing up on Fifth Avenue and 61st Street mixing up explosive concoctions out in the cow barns behind their $15 million apartments? The same kids no doubt dreamt of running away to join the circus while their nannies shoved them off toward Dalton.

Other easily-overlooked news this morning, from Arizona:

An FBI task force on Friday arrested a Tucson man on terrorism related offenses involving a conspiracy targeting government buildings in two cities in Arizona, authorities said.

Mahin Kahn, 18, was arrested following an investigation by the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Phoenix field office said.

Khan faces two state counts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism, a spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said.

Take a look at how his former classmate describes him:

This classmate says a month into their friendship, things got weird.

“Anytime he would hear something about the Middle East and America’s involvement, he would become mad. He would always tell me how much he did not like America.”

Khan’s classmate says Khan even tried to buy a gun. But it wasn’t until he saw posts on social media that he decided to cut ties.

“He started to tag me on Facebook in all of these calls for Jihad posts and stuff for radicalized Islam.”

The former classmate says he only told the school and Facebook, never taking this information to the FBI, because he didn’t take Khan seriously.

Is there a lot of wacky “I hate America, I’m gonna become a jihadist,” humor out there?

Meanwhile, over in Indiana:

A former Brownsburg High School student was arrested Tuesday on federal terrorism charges after allegedly attempting to provide support to ISIS and travel overseas to join the terrorism organization.

FBI agents and Brownsburg police officers first showed up Brownsburg Pointe Apartments, located off of Whittington Drive, shortly after 2 p.m.

Officials said Akram Musleh, 18, attempted to board a bus from Indianapolis to New York, where they say he planned to fly to Morocco on his way to territory controlled by ISIS. Court documents say he then planned to join the group.

ISIS in Indianapolis? Something seems to be serious enough for the bureau to start warning people about potential threats:

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly went to a home in Fishers, Indiana on Friday to inform a family of a possible terrorist threat.

Sources tell FOX59 the FBI informed the family they may be on a list of potential ISIS targets. Fishers police confirmed they were aware of the FBI visit.

An FBI spokesperson issued the following statement to FOX59:

“The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information. We perform these notifications so potential victims are aware of possible threats and take appropriate steps. The FBI will continue to work closely with federal, state, and local partners to keep the public informed of potential threats.”

In other news, today President Obama will be attending a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton.

Why Swing-State Running Mates Aren’t Worth the Hassle

For those who are wondering whether the home state of the vice-presidential pick should be a factor . . . eh, not really, according to a new book analyzing the history of running-mate selections:

One argument you hear for picking a vice presidential prospect is their ability to “carry” their home state, or put a noncompetitive state into play. But you say it hasn’t worked that way.

Christopher Devine: That’s right — with a caveat. Generally speaking, presidential tickets do not perform any better in the home state of the running mate. In our book, we tested the “vice presidential home-state advantage” using three distinct empirical methods, and each returned that same result; on average, the advantage is not statistically distinguishable from zero.

However, we do find a significant electoral advantage in the rare case that a vice presidential candidate meets these two conditions: First, comes from a small state, in terms of population; second,  has served the people of that state as an elected official for a long time.

A great example of an experienced candidate from a small state is Joe Biden, who we find delivered a measurable advantage in Delaware when running for vice president.  Essentially, a Biden-esque running mate is an “institution” in his home state, familiar and beloved enough to actually change how some people vote for president.

But there’s the rub — small states like Delaware have few electoral votes, so they’re unlikely to swing an election.  That’s why, historically speaking, we feel confident saying that the vice presidential home-state advantage has been inconsequential — because, on the rare occasion that it happens, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the election.

Women were no more likely to vote for Ferraro’s Democratic ticket in 1984 or Sarah Palin’s Republican in 2008 than in other election years.

We find mostly the same results in terms of religious minorities. Based on these results, it’s unlikely that, say, Hillary Clinton would win more votes from Latinos simply by picking HUD Secretary Julian Castro or [Los Angeles] Congressman Xavier Becerra. She might perform better among Latinos for other reasons, though, such as opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy.

In the Austin-American Statesman, Democratic consultant Glenn Smith gushes over Castro so effusively, it strains credibility: “Castro brings extraordinary experience to the table . . . he brings something to government service that is all too rare these days: a confident-but-modest, open-minded and selfless commitment to the future.”

Somewhere Sean Hannity is reading that and thinking, “Man, that guy’s really in love with a candidate.”

Thankfully, Austin-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak appears on the same newspaper page to point out the inconvenient truths about Castro: “He is unknown to world leaders, has almost surely never received a classified intelligence briefing, and has never served in Congress. His sole executive role before HUD was as a part-time mayor . . . He doesn’t make Texas a blue state. He doesn’t speak Spanish. He has no constituency. Housing issues will not be central to this campaign.”

Why You Need to Read Brad Thor’s Foreign Agent

You might have heard that author Brad Thor got in a little trouble a couple weeks ago when he appeared to speculate about the potential assassination of Donald Trump as president in an apparently insufficiently disapproving way. Does that mean I shouldn’t predict his latest novel, Foreign Agent, will rocket up the bestseller charts to be “number one with a bullet”? (Thor earlier also pointed out that a Black Lives Matter movement that can encourage disturbed people to attack cops could also encourage them to attack Trump, and said, “May God protect the [Secret Service] and may God protect the Trumps.”)

There are a lot of good thriller novelists out there. What makes Thor stand out is that he finds new ways to surprise even a loyal reader, particularly in his last half-dozen or so novels featuring his daring hero, Scot Harvath. Let’s begin by saying Black List was a demonstration of Thor’s clairvoyance, as he pretty much wrote about everything the National Security Agency was doing, and the dangers of abuse of those far-reaching, far-seeing systems, about a year before the Edward Snowden scandal revealed the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance. Hidden Order almost felt like a bet, as if some foolish friend of Thor’s wagered he couldn’t write a gripping thriller about the Federal Reserve. (He can!) In that one, Thor achieves something I wanted to do with The Weed Agency, even though they’re very different books — he writes about a little-known corner of the government, makes it sound utterly unbelievable and too strange, absurd, or scary to be true, and then reveals that in fact it is all true. 

Act of War brought us, the readers, deep into the dark heart of North Korea, the most secretive, mysterious, and absurdly brutal country in the world.

Then there’s Code of Conduct. If you’re depressed about the state of the country, and aren’t sure if we would respond to a serious national crisis in a way that preserves our freedoms . . . well, so was Thor, apparently. In Code of Conduct, the bad guys come as close to winning as a thriller novel can allow, and near the end of the novel, Thor’s hero, Harvath, is in a dark place, psychologically. There’s hope of a return to normalcy, but we know our hero — and in some ways, the world — has just been through hell.

Foreign Agent is a return to form in more ways than one; the world and our hero have largely rebounded the crisis of the past novel and the fictional world looks very similar to the one outside our real-life windows: ISIS holds a firm grip on much of Syria, they’re launching more violent attacks in Europe, and they’re getting closer to hitting key American targets both abroad and at the homeland. Oh, and there’s an obnoxious politician with presidential ambitions playing fast and loose with classified information.

But once again, Thor surprises us. Yes, Harvath gets plenty of daring chases and confrontations and a journey to one of the most dangerous places on earth. But the grand plot suggests a grand large-scale confrontation against ISIS might better serve other interests than America’s. The portrait of how acts of terror can change victims forever is gripping, heart-breaking, and disturbing. And Thor’s fictional president enacts a proposal that would probably make John Kerry’s head explode. 

ADDENDA: I’m starting to get excited about the Rio Olympics. Not the actual games, but how badly they turn out under Brazil’s mismanagement, and whether NBC, which paid a pretty penny to broadcast the games, bothers to mention all the looming problems:

A group of Brazilian scientists have detected a drug-resistant bacteria growing off the shores of some of Rio de Janeiro’s most stunning beaches, one month before they’re due to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

According to lead researcher Renata Picao, the “super bacteria” entered the city’s waterways when sewage coming from local hospitals got channeled into the bay.

“We have been looking for ‘super bacteria’ in coastal waters during a one year period in five beaches,” Picao told CNN, during a visit to her lab. “We found that the threats occur in coastal waters in a variety of concentrations and that they are strongly associated with pollution.”

The Rio Olympics: Catch the fever!

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