Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Put them on trial or let them go

I didn't have enough information to have an informed opinion, and was not going to jump on the "Convict them before we try them" bandwagon. I'm sure most here have heard about the ALLEGED plot to blow up the Mackinac Bridge by three Texans of Middle Eastern ancestry. It looks more and more like this is a Richard Jewel situation.

Here's the latest from the Detroit News

Two alleged terrorism cases involving men of Middle Eastern descent and bulk purchases of cell phones were in tatters Monday, and Arab-American leaders said the arrested men were victims of racial profiling.

The FBI and Michigan State Police said Monday there is no evidence linking three Texas men arrested in Caro, Mich., to terrorism or a plot to blow up the Mackinac Bridge.

I'm not going to slam profiling, and there are needs for it in some cases. That said, there's a big step between profiling and detaining. These three bought a lot of pre-paid cell phones and said then planned on reselling them in Texas. They were caught with 1000 cell phones and pictures of the Mackinac Bridge.

For some reason, I had a gut feeling about this case being "the boy who cried wolf." I was going to wait before posting something on this partly for this reason.

In this country, we are innocent until we are proven guilty. That tends to be forgotten by some


Curley Sue said...

Michigander - there are Wal-Marts in Texas too. So, how is there profit in buying cell phones at Wal-Mart in Michigan and DRIVING to Texas to sell them? Also, why are they opening the packages to remove the batteries and discard the chargers? I hope they don't release these guys until they have ALL the questions answered.

Keith Richards said...

This is an interesting case. As far as I know there is no law against buying up hundreds or even thousands of cell phones, so in the absence of additional evidence of conspiracy/criminal intent letting them go is the correct thing to do.

As Dan noted, this is America, and we need to carefully protect the rights of our citizens. Today we may be stomping on the rights of a minority that many people don't like, but if we allow the law to prosecute Americans of Arab descent without proof of criminal activity today, tomorrow it may be Christians or gun owners. The constitution protects all American citizens equally. Once we lower the standard of protection under the constitution all citizens are injured.

Having said this I do think that temporarily detaining these individuals for questioning was the right thing to do. Traveling all over the Midwest, paying CASH to buy up phones at many different Walmarts IS high unusual behavior especially considering that untraceable anonymous cell phones are highly coveted by terrorists and other criminals. In a case like this it is correct to ask "is it reasonable to believe that sufficient profit is possible in a legitimate business enterprise to make these unusual actions worthwhile?" as a sniff test. It IS hard to believe that in an age of $3+ per gallon gas, driving around all over the Midwest in a gas guzzler van, buying up hundreds of cell phones from dozens of RETAIL stores, can result in a reasonable profit by selling to another entity as a WHOLESALE transaction. If this is really legitimate, why did the person who wants the cell phones not just set up a wholesale distribution company and buy them directly from the manufacturer or importer, cutting out the profit that Walmart and these men make on the deal? Is it REALLY possible to buy phones cheaper at RETAIL from Walmart (with all the extra costs of paying someone to drive around) than to buy them in bulk from a wholesaler or importer?

The answer? Without further investigation, who knows? What we DO know is that paying cash to buy a few phones at a time at dozens of different stores all over the Midwest DOES make the phones untraceable. Untraceable phones are VERY important for criminal activity, so the actions of these individuals was definitely worth investigating. In the end, the policeman was just doing his job. And if further proof of terrorist intent had been found the policeman would be a hero today.

But we need to obey the constitution. If a crime can't be proven they should be let go. It is worth noting that if the FBI still has good reason to believe that criminal intent is involved (but can't prove it), they CAN continue to investigate and watch the individuals involved.

As a final note, I think we do need to examine the value of these untraceable cell phones to society and weigh their value against the need for security against criminals and terrorists. Our lawmakers should consider regulating the sale of these phones to make them traceable to the purchaser even when purchased with cash, just like we already do with another item that criminals prefer to own in an untraceable and anonymous way: handguns.

A Yahoo Refugee said...

Yes, Wal-mart has the power to force prices by suppliers down so low that it is not possible for people to buy direct from the manufacturer for less.


Seems that these guys aren't the only ones buying at Wal-mart for resale elsewhere. The phone dealer-distributor in Texas has a want-ad describing what models of phones he wants to buy, and how much he'll pay for them. These kids can make $6 on each one. And, oh, by the way-

The Wal-marts around Texas appear to be sold out of trac-phones at that price.

I found the trac-phone in Belleville, MI Walmart for $24.88. But the Wal-mart only had five on the shelf at that price.

Really not worth it to buy just five of them, although the phone reseller in Texas will pay $32 for them delivered to his door.

anonymous said...

I keep hearing a lot of Walmart bashing in the media and now here on this blog. For years Democrats have bashed companies for "gouging" consumers. Now, I hear you saying that high markups are good. It is amazing how the tune changes when you hate a company.

But I've noticed that Walmart is no worst than many other companies in selling foreign made junk. On recent trips to places like Meijer, Kmart, Home Depot, and Harbor Freight I spent some time checking merchandise for country of origin. I see all the same Chinese made stuff at these places yet Walmart gets bashed for selling it cheaply while these other companies get off the hook for having markups that sometimes are 3 or 4 times higher. So it is OK if Meijer sells a Chinese made wrench for $4 but it is bad for Walmart to sell the same wrench for $1.50?

Even companies with extreme high markups are moving production overseas, but they are not passing cost savings onto consumers like Walmart does. I recently bought some belts for my John Deere lawn tractor. When comparing the belt sleeves (packaging) of the new belts to sleeves from belts I bought a couple years ago, I discovered that the older belts proudly proclaimed "Made in U.S.A." and sold for $16.50, while the new belts are made in China and cost me $24.00. To add insult to injury, the quality of the new belts is noticeably lower than the quality of the old belts. So John Deere switched production to China to lower costs, raised their prices, lowered the quality, and is now pocketing all the additional profit. I'd be happy to buy future belts at Walmart if they sold the sizes that I need.

So you can come on here and bash Walmart for trying to give consumers a break, but I will be happy to join the tens of millions of other Walmart shoppers if they ever decide to build a Walmart near me.

Republican Michigander said...

One thing I'm proud of. I haven't bought anything from Chi-mart in about 10 years.

anonymous said...

Ok, Republican Michigander, how about Chiers, Chinese Depot, K-Chimart, and Chinese Freight? Aren't you being hypocritical?

If your objection is that a company sells a lot of Chinese junk you should condemn ALL retailers that specialize in Chinese imported junk and not single out the company which happens to sell it at the cheapest price.

Also, while we are at it, what about the electronics and appliance stores? Forty years ago most electronics sold in the U.S. were made here. While the U.S. is still a leader in designing electronics, very few electronic items are actually manufactured in the U.S. anymore. The same thing is now happening with appliances too, including big ticket items like washers, dryers, and refrigerators. Walmart does not even sell these items yet manufacturing is still migrating rapidly to China.

A Yahoo Refugee said...

I object mostly to using US taxpayers to subsidize Communist Chinese imports.

What do I mean by that?

US Taxpayers are currently spending nearly 6 BILLION dollars on "port security". And all that is buying is between one and two port containers being opened per one hundred entering this country. Six Billion for that. And we are importing 10 MILLION containers of foreign "junk" each year. That works out to nearly $600 PER CONTAINER to finance "port security".

It only costs a shihpper about $1,100 to ship a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the U.S. And then we spend $600 per container of taxpayer money, for the verly slight chance it might be opened to be looked at.

Now, if there were an appropriate USER FEE of $600 per container of "junk", then it wouldn't cost the taxpayers anything to subsidize. The added cost of inspection would be passed along in the price. Suddenly, importing from China would not be so cheap, so fewer jobs would be fleeting overseas. Americans could be more competitive with the world, when the actual COST associated with producing and delivering to a market were refelcted in the price. Fair trade, in my book.

I drive an american built car (as much as is American these days), so that my neighbors keep their jobs. I am satisfied with the quality of my Chevrolet. I'm not rich, and never will be. But I will not own anything made outside the USA if a similar USA made item is available.

I check "How to Buy American"
and http://www.stillmadeintheusa.com" for ideas before shopping.

And I supplement that with other things I find on the web, and try to buy American where ever possible.

Sometimes it costs a dollar or two more. More often than not it DOESN'T cost more to buy American made. It does, however, take a little digging to find the American made products.

And I stay out of Wal-mart as much as possible. They are not any cheaper than Meijer on most products, and Meijer is family owned in Michigan. Wal-mart employees use Michigan Medicaid funds (my tax dollars) for their primary health care. Meijer employees don't use my tax dollars for health care. Its that simple.