Wandering Eye: Law enforcers seizing cash, foreign money to U.S. think tanks, an appreciation for "Homicide," and more

The Washington Post has published the first and second parts of its three-part series about law enforcers seizing cash from motorists, taking more than $2.5 billion with little in the way of legal challenges despite constitutional concerns surrounding the practice, while using the money to bolster law-enforcement budgets. City Paper has long been interested in this practice, highlighting cases in which motorists found with a single pot seed or with cotton mouth ended up having cash taken from them, while also exploring how postal inspectors home in on suspicious packages to take cash and a trend of the government seizing money from small businesses, such as Maryland's South Mountain Creamery, by accusing them of laundering cash deposits. Whether the Post's attention prompts a change in this conduct remains to be seen, but it's sure to spur debate. (Van Smith)

 

NYT's big project on foreign funders of U.S. think tanks shows that, in Washington, at least, influence is a buyer's market. The amounts are small—a few tens of millions of dollars—while the impact can be huge. Economics 101 tells why: "The number of policy groups has multiplied in recent years," the Times' Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, and Nicholas Confessore write, "while research grants from the United States government have dwindled." Events in Baltimore were partly a catalyst for the trend of foreign governments renting American policy scholars. Remember the outrage, back in 2007, when a company owned by the United Arab Emirates was set to buy Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, the operator of ports in Baltimore and up and down the East Coast? (And never mind that P&O was already foreign-owned.) After Congress scuttled that deal, the U.A.E. contracted the Center for Strategic and International Studies to, in the Times' words, "sponsor a lecture series 'to examine the strategic importance' of the gulf region and 'identify opportunities for constructive U.S. engagement.' It also paid the center to organize annual trips to the gulf region during which dozens of national security experts from the United States would get private briefings from government officials there." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

If a writer on arts or entertainment comes across any story with the slightest of Baltimore angles, he or she feels compelled to offer hosannahs to the almighty David Simon drama "The Wire." As much as we love the show, its knee-jerk inclusion in just about every blog post, feature story, or thinkpiece is a little tiresome. So we were heartened when we went over to Vulture, the pop culture blog of New York magazine, on Friday and found a post from TV writer Margaret Lyons extolling the virtues of another Simon creation, the '90s cop series "Homicide: Life on the Street." Though making a point not to directly compare the two, Lyons did offer this: "You want riveting interrogations? We've got riveting interrogations. You want season-long arcs about police corruption? We've got season-long arcs about police corruption. You want villainous yet alluring drug lords? A commentary on the fractured state of American racial politics? Stories about working-class people? A fraught father-and-son relationship where they're both cops? Well! Have I got a show for you. As a bonus, said son is played by 'Breaking Bad''s beloved Giancarlo Esposito. Some of us have enjoyed his work since far before Gus was a glimmer in anyone's meth eye." Preach it! Lastly, we'll co-sign her request for the show to start streaming on Netflix. Somebody get on that ASAP. (Brandon Weigel)

 

You're gambling with your privacy too. The Baltimore Business Journal writes today that the Maryland Live! Casino is data mining like Miner '49ers. When you sign up for the rewards program, the casino keeps a records of your "like and dislikes," your kids' birthdays, and other private info. This is nothing new, at least according to this report which implicates everyone from supermarkets to book stores collecting personal data for who knows what. Your best bet is, like the casino itself, not to give in to such programs. When it comes to supermarkets at least, you do not need a "loyalty card." Most of the time the cashier will have a generic card that they'll scan and give you the same deals. When it comes to the casino mining data, it seems that the only winning move is not to play. (J.M. Giordano)

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