Mark Wahlberg has learned the hard way: Just leave 9/11 alone.
The star of the new movie "Contraband" found himself starring in a 9/11 controversy this week when he revealed that he had been scheduled to fly on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center -- and suggested that he could have single-handedly prevented the tragedy.
"If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'"
The comments, made to Men's Journal in a cover story article, met with swift criticism. It seemed especially cruel considering that the passengers on another hijacked jetliner -- United Flight 93 -- did indeed rise up against the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives and crash-landing near Shanksville, Pa., rather than allow the plane to fly into a target in the nation's capital.
Now, Wahlberg is trying to leave those 9/11 magazine comments on the cutting room floor, telling TMZ, "I deeply apologize to the families of the victims that my answer came off as insensitive, it was certainly not my intention."
He added: "To suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible."
Many Americans likely tried to put themselves in that 9/11 scenario, imagining themselves getting the upper hand or taking revenge on the terrorists. But for Wahlberg to suggest that he could have somehow single-handedly stopped the hijacking, and then landed the plane safely in Manhattan (perhaps a la Captain Sully Sullenberger)? For many people, that was just too much.
Were you among those rolling your eyes at the latest Transportation Security Administration flap, in which an agent confiscated a cupcake from a passenger in Las Vegas because the frosting was deemed a security threat? Well, the TSA would like you to hear the other side of the story.
But first, some background. The report, on its face, seemed outrageous: The TSA confiscated the cupcake last month at McCarran International Airport because there are strict limits on how much of a "gel-like" substance passengers can take aboard. In this case, the rich creamy frosting was deemed a gel-like substance, and there was too much of it.
And Wicked Good Cupcakes, which made the questionable confection, got in on the fun. "Apparently we're a tasty terrorist threat," Brian Vilagie told the Boston Channel.
Now, the TSA is using its blog to weigh in on what it calls "Cupcakegate."
"I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake," TSA blogger Bob Burns wrote Tuesday. His post included the photos above to illustrate that this was not a traditional cupcake, but a cupcake-in-a-jar.
"If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the 'gel' category. As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar."
Let's forget, for just a moment, that there's no such thing as too much frosting on a cupcake. Burns defended the TSA officer's right to confiscate the confection. He added that such a cute container is precisely why authorities should screen it more carefully.
Exhibiting a sense of humor, he wrote that "intelligence gathered from all over the world tells us ... that unless Wile E. Coyote is involved, the days of the three sticks of dynamite with a giant alarm clock strapped to them are long gone....When you think about it, do you think an explosive would be concealed in an ominous item that would draw attention, or something as simple as a cute cupcake jar?"
The TSA blogger points to two attempted attacks involving liquid or gel-like substances -- a 1995 plot to explode a dozen passenger planes bound for the U.S., and that foiled 2006 plot, which tried to use liquid explosives to blow up at least 10 jetliners.
Hains told The Times on Tuesday she was surprised that the TSA bothered to respond to Cupcakegate. But she believes the comments only reinforce her belief that the TSA goes overboard too often -- as in this case.
"I think there just needs to be some common sense here," she said.
She also wondered about the uniformity of TSA's screening practices, noting that she started her Boston-to-Vegas holiday travel with two cupcakes in a jar, and both made it through Boston's security screening. She and her husband ate one on the flight west. And they planned to eat the other on the flight back. (You have to pause and appreciate such sweet, tasty scheduling.)
When the cupcake-in-a-jar was flagged in Vegas, she offered to scoop the contents into a plastic baggie. Nope. Turns out the TSA was OK with her bringing a glass jar aboard -- just not all that potentially dangerous frosting.
Hains, an assistant professor of communications at Salem State University in Massachusetts and author of a new book called "Growing Up With Girl Power," was probably the wrong person to mess with. After the cupcake-in-a-jar was confiscated, she proceeded to her destination -- but not before writing this little missive and sending it to Boing Boing. Needless to say, it went viral.
A funny aside: When Wicked Good Cupcakes learned of the flap, they gave Hains a dozen cupcakes to make up for her trouble.
What do you think about this showdown? Do you think TSA went too far? Or do you think Hains made too big of a deal out of this sweet controversy?
A New York man who allegedly chose New Year's Day to take revenge on his perceived enemies was charged Wednesday with a hate crime and four counts of arson stemming from a recent spate of firebombings.
The suspect was identified as Ray Lazier Lengend, who's believed to have hand-crafted Molotov cocktails using glass Starbucks Frappuccino bottles and a beer bottle. He then allegedly used the homemade weapons to get back at others for what he considered slights and insults.
Lengend reportedly cooperated with police and confessed to the attacks, including a couple of which police were unaware. The targets included two homes in Queens; a home in Nassau County; a convenience store; and a New York City Islamic center, the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation, according to the Associated Press. There were more than 80 worshipers inside the latter at the time.
No injuries were reported, but the two-hour rampage left city residents frightened and shaken on a day that was supposed to be set aside for spiritual and emotional renewal. Once a suspect was caught, anger erupted along with demands that the culprit face hate crime charges for the attack on the center.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised the city that there would be no tolerance for discrimination.
Now, law enforcement officials are trying to piece together not just the string of attacks, but also a motive. The New York Times reports that investigators believe Lengend was trying to settle scores against those he believed had wronged him. The center, for example, was deemed to have mistreated Lengend when he asked to use its bathroom. The convenience store owner allegedly tossed Lengend out after he was caught shoplifting.
The New York Times also reports that Lengend has been arrested several times in the past, including on drug possession charges, grand larceny and possession of bad checks.
In at least one of the weekend attacks, authorities say, the suspect completely missed his target: A homemade bomb was tossed at a home that Legend believed belonged to a drug dealer who had cheated him. He allegedly had the right street for the dealer, but the wrong address, according to the Associated Press, which added that Lengend ultimately did not know the residents inside the house that he allegedly set on fire.
In all, Lengend faces one count of arson as a hate crime, four counts of arson and five counts of criminal possession of a weapon, police told the Associated Press. Additional charges are possible.
Less than four months after opening, the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site has welcomed its one millionth visitor, as the scar from the nation’s worst terrorist attack continues to heal -- and become a significant tourist draw.
According to a post on the memorial’s website, visitors came from all 50 U.S. states and from 120 countries to view the memorial since it opened to the public on Sept. 12.
“For 10 years, people were only able to walk the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, stealing glances at the progress through construction fences,” 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels stated. “More than 1 million people have returned to this sacred ground to pay their respects, and are able to witness the rebuilding of the World Trade Center all around them. It humbles us to see that the public's will to commemorate the victims of 9/11 is as strong as ever.”
Nearly 3,000 people died in the coordinated attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when four passenger jets were hijacked by 19 terrorists from Al Qaeda. Two planes were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and both towers collapsed within hours.
A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. Passengers attempted to retake control of the fourth plane before it could reach Washington, D.C., forcing it to crash in a field near Shanksville, Penn.
There have been annual commemorations at all three sites but this year’s was especially poignant, with President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush, leading the nation in mourning on the 10th anniversary. The next day, the site opened to the public.
The number of visitors has grown quickly, but there are still some questions associated with the tribute.
Work at a planned museum at the World Trade Center site has been halted because of a financial dispute, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this week that the museum likely will not open on time next year.
The museum was supposed to open on Sept. 11, 2012, but the National September 11 Memorial & Museum foundation has been fighting with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over who is responsible for infrastructure costs related to the project.
Photo: The panels containing names of the victims of the terrorist attacks can be seen at the Sept. 11 memorial. Officials announced that since it opened in September, more than 1 million people have visited. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A Tennessee tourist who says she unwittingly broke New York's weapons laws by visiting the 9/11 memorial with a loaded gun -- legal in her home state -- faces 3 1/2 years behind bars for the error, which came to light when she asked guards where she could store her weapon while touring the memorial.
The Dec. 22 incident underscores the disparity in gun-carrying laws among states; some, like New York, ban the carrying of loaded guns and don't recognize the permits issued in other states for visitors carrying weapons. Opponents of strict gun laws argue that the right to bear arms, as outlined in the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, should take precedence and that it is unfair for people like the tourist, Meredith Graves, to be caught in the middle of different states' regulations.
Local media reports have described Graves as a 39-year-old medical student who was in the area for a job interview and decided to visit the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers with her husband, and her loaded .32-caliber pistol. When she saw the signs reading "No guns allowed," Graves asked a security guard where she could check the loaded weapon in her purse, according to the New York Post.
Graves was arrested on suspicion of carrying a loaded weapon. She could face a minimum of 3 1/2 years in prison. She was freed on bail Wednesday and is due to appear in court in March.
Tennessee's Knoxnews.com said Graves got her permit to carry a loaded gun in August 2008 and that it was due to expire in 2012.
New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said prosecuting people like Graves will spur gun advocates to fight harder against restrictions on weapons.
"By prosecuting this woman and seeking 3 1/2 years of jail, we are shooting our own [gun-control] efforts in the foot and giving the rest of the country ammunition," Vallone said, according to the New York Post. "Clearly the laws are too strict here," he added.
But a Tennessee firearms instructor expressed surprise that Graves would not have checked New York's laws before carting her loaded weapon into the city and said it was the responsibility of individuals to check each state's laws before traveling with their weapons.
“There are about 50 different sets of rules. We tell our students to call ahead before they travel with a gun,” David Dukes, the firearms instructor at Gunny's in Maryville, Tenn., told Knoxnews.com. He noted that most states' information is available on the Internet.
Whatever New York's laws might be, the president of the memorial, Joe Daniels, said it should be clear to anyone that loaded weapons would not be permitted at a highly secured site dedicated to the memory of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "It's so obvious -- you shouldn't have to say it," Daniels said.
Photo: The National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan, shown Thursday, has drawn more than a million visitors since it opened in September. One was a Tennessee woman who was arrested on suspicion of carrying a loaded gun. Credit: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
Lori Berenson returned to the United States Tuesday morning for the first time after spending 15 years in a Peruvian prison for supporting revolutionary groups during a brutal civil war.
Now 42, Berenson arrived with her 2-year-old son, Salvador, at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, was greeted by her parents and a taken to a waiting car to go to Manhattan. She did not speak with the gaggle of reporters.
Rhoda Berenson, Lori’s mother and Salvador’s grandmother, earlier clutched a Bloomingdale's bag containing a winter coat for her grandson.
“We are looking forward to the first holiday at home in a long, long time and many relatives who haven't met Salvador are excited to see him,” she told the Associated Press. “This is not a political time; this is a time for family, friends and holidays.”
Mark Berenson told the news agency that his daughter was looking forward to showing her son around New York City and acquainting him with Hanukkah traditions. He said the toddler loves snow, which he has rarely seen in Peru.
To some, Berenson was the face of a social activist in Latin America while others saw her as the face of modern terrorism years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
She was a college student when she became involved in social justice issues in Latin America, first in El Salvador where she worked with rebels on the 1992 peace accords. From there, she moved on to Peru, where a fierce civil war between the government and rebels eventually claimed about 70,000 lives.
She became involved with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a junior group to the Maoist Shining Path, which was the leading proponent of revolutionary violence in Peru. Tupac Amaru grew from a group that distributed food for the poor to a more violent entity that was responsible for the 1996 raid on the Japanese Embassy in Lima where 72 hostages were held for months before a government raid killed the rebels.
Berenson had finished a visit to the Peruvian Congress when she was pulled off of a bus in 1995 and accused of helping plan an attack that never took place. She was also charged with collaborating with the terrorist group, some of whose armed members stayed in the house she rented.
Berenson was never convicted of any violent act but was judged guilty by a military tribunal in 1996 of supporting the Tupac Amaru and sentenced to life in prison. The judge wore a hood to hide his identity.
“It would be nice if people didn't see me as the face of terrorism, but I can't change that. I live with it. It's not easy, especially because I don't think that I'm a terrorist,” Berenson said at the time.
Her conviction ignited human rights groups around the world and in the United States who saw it as a flagrant violation of herlegal rights because she was unable to examine the government’s evidence.
Under pressure from human rights groups and the U.S. government, and following a change in the Peruvian government in 2000, Berenson’s conviction was overturned and she received a new trial in a civilian court. She was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In November 2010, she was paroled and ordered to stay in Peru.
A court approved her departure to New York but she must return to Peru by Jan. 11. Peruvian prosecutors fought the ruling, arguing there was no way to guarantee that she would return as promised.
A Texas gun instructor who drew scrutiny earlier this month after airing a radio advertisement refusing to train President Obama supporters, Muslims and certain Arabs has agreed not to discriminate against would-be customers under law, Texas officials said this week.
"Crockett Keller affirmed that he would not refuse concealed handgun license instruction to anyone based on national origin, race or religion," Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement released late Monday, adding, "The investigation is closed. DPS will have no additional comment at this time."
A clip of Keller's ad, which became popular online, shows him coolly informing listeners that Muslims and Obama supporters were not welcome at his firearms classes.
Keller, 65, originally aired the ad on a country music station near his home in Mason, Texas, about 100 miles west of Austin. It has been viewed more than 91,000 times on YouTube, sparking debates among viewers about terrorists and rednecks.
"If you are a socialist liberal and/or voted for the current campaigner in chief, please do not take this class," Keller says in the ad. "You've already proved that you cannot make a knowledgeable and prudent decision as required under the law. Also, if you are a non-Christian Arab or Muslim, I will not teach you this class. Once again, with no shame, I am Crockett Keller."
The Times caught up with Keller by phone Tuesday at his store in Mason, Texas, which sells, among other things, guns.
How have people responded to your ad?
I have received thousands of phone calls since it aired, 30 to 1 in favor. The most polite phone calls I have gotten have been from admitted Muslims, which I think is curious. They ask politely about my stands and I respond politely. They’ve said, "There’s so many more moderate Muslims than radical Muslims," and I said, "I’m aware of that, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, but the moderate Muslims don’t attack the state.” It’s their responsibility to assimilate into the American culture.
Do you think excluding Muslims from your classes is discrimination?
I try to judge people individually, as opposed to a group. I know the ad did that. Occasionally you just have to do that.
How has demand been for your firearms classes after the ad aired?
I have had people send money because they couldn’t take the class. The class I had since the ad had six people. I hope you can be clear that you don't need a license to teach someone how to use a gun. I teach a 10-hour class on how to use firearms and a separate concealed-carry class with a proficiency test.
What's the most you teach in a class at a time?
I teach up to 10 people.
Is it difficult staying in control of that many people at a time?
You have to be stern. But I have a problem with being out on the range and having somebody with a pistol with 17 rounds in it; it doesn’t take long to start knocking off people if you have the wrong kind of students.
What does the Texas Department of Public Safety statement mean?
It was not a retraction of anything.
But does it mean that you are not going to deny instruction to Obama supporters, Muslims and certain Arabs?
In Texas, you don’t ask people how big their ranch is or what their religion is. That's just not polite. So it was kind of a moot point.
It sounds like you stand by the ad -- what have you learned from this controversy?
We have got to start speaking up. We are still the majority in the United States. It is the Judeo-Christian principles that we founded this country on that have made this country great.
So what happens now?
What’s going to have to happen now in my crusade or whatever you call it is the civil rights law will have to change. It’s absolutely ludicrous that the state should defend people who are out to destroy the state.
How do you think the civil rights law should change?
It would allow people to protect the country and the citizenry by refusing to teach people how to fly planes into buildings and to use handguns.
We need to amend the civil rights law to allow scrutiny and discrimination against any people attached to a group that has vowed the destruction of the United States, including the Black Panthers, Rev. Wright and radical Muslims. We need to have the right to protect our country. Protecting everybody’s rights has gone way too far.
How do you think civil rights laws should be changed?
It will be changed through the due process of law, not through protests. It needs to be changed through the appropriate channels.
It sounds like you still don't want to teach certain people, is that true?
I will definitely use a tremendous amount of discretion when it comes to who I will teach how to use a weapon.
But haven't there been terrorists who were not Muslim or Arab?
It's true that some terrorists have not been Muslim or Arab. But they have been involved in hundreds of terrorist acts.
So how do you know whom to screen out?
I would listen to people, listen to their comments to determine who wants to train and notify the state about any concerns I have about their safety or character -- by me being vigilant, trying to ascertain who’s who in my class and what their true needs are as far as a concealed-carry license.
Police say a Virginia truck driver tried to dodge the hefty $65 toll into Manhattan by rigging his front license plate so it would flip up on command -- a maneuver that might do James Bond or MacGyver proud.
Instead, the driver came off like MacGruber, that hapless "Saturday Night Live" character who always manages to muck things up.
Police are "on the lookout for such maneuvers,” Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico told the Associated Press. “Hopefully this will serve as a lesson.”
The wire service reports that, according to police, Nelson Vaquiz of Beaverdam, Va., had a cable in his truck cabin that was attached to his front license plate, allowing him to lift up the plate as he rolled through a gateless toll lane on New Jersey's Interstate 95, heading over the George Washington Bridge.
Vaquiz didn't have a toll transponder, the account says, so hiding his license plate could theoretically keep the security cameras from tracking him down by his license plate and forcing him to cough up the toll.
Vaquiz apparently put some thought into this, the New York Post reported: He'd also bent up his rear plate so it wouldn't be visible to the cameras either.
But a sharp-eyed Port Authority officer noticed the license plate falling back into the place, media reports say, and tried to pull Vaquiz over as he was hauling pipes about 6:35 a.m. Saturday. Vaquiz allegedly tried to make a run for it, but authorities managed to halt the vehicle before it reached the bridge.
Here's the upshot: Such efforts were apparently an attempt to avoid forking over $65. Now, Vaquiz, 36, faces charges of eluding arrest, theft of service and possession of burglary tools. He was released on bail.
Of course, plenty of drivers -- and would-be drivers -- have balked at New York City's steep toll prices. And the tolls will keep getting higher, the Port Authority says. By the end of 2015, a five-axle truck will have to pay $105 to cross the bridge.
It wasn't a completely crazy gambit. Some drivers do indeed manage to race through the gateless lanes by obscuring their license plates.
We're not sure how they manage to get away with it. But if you want to do it James Bond style -- and get away with it -- watch the above video. You'll find your answer about 1:18 seconds in.
Warning: The video will also make you yearn for a passenger ejector seat.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it has filed capital charges against a Saudi prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for his alleged role in plotting and orchestrating the 2000 terrorist attack on the Navy destroyer Cole as it refueled in a Yemeni harbor.
Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was one of 14 so-called high-value detainees moved from secret CIA-run interrogation sites in 2006 to the military detention facility on the U.S. Naval base in southern Cuba.
Nashiri is accused of choreographing the Cole attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors when suicide bombers rammed the destroyer with an explosives-laden motor boat. He was arrested in Dubai in 2002 and held for four years in an undisclosed location where, according to CIA documents, he was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, including mock firing of a handgun at his temple and threatening him with a power drill.
Capital charges initially filed against the Saudi of Yemeni descent were dropped after government admissions that he had been subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques," including the simulated drowning exercise known as waterboarding. The practice has been widely condemned by human rights activists as torture and forbidden under new detention and interrogation regulations drafted two years ago.
Previously unsealed intelligence documents allege that Nashiri supervised several terrorist plots against Western military targets on behalf of Al Qaeda and its late mastermind, Osama bin Laden.
The Pentagon's terse announcement that it had "referred" charges against Nashiri to a military commission for trial at the high-security naval base didn't address concerns that some of the evidence military prosecutors hope to use against the defendant may be inadmissible under the new tribunal regulations if deemed the product of torture.
Nashiri is the only Guantanamo prisoner facing a potential death sentence other than the five suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks alleged to have been planned and carried out under Al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Nashiri is to be arraigned at Guantanamo within 30 days of the delivery of charges to him, the Pentagon statement said.
-- Carol J. Williams
Photo: A small boat guards the Navy destroyer Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000, days after terrorists attacked the ship with a motor boat packed with explosives. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press
An Islamic community center that fueled angry demonstrations because of its proximity to the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has opened quietly in Lower Manhattan, drawing no protesters but bringing words of regret from the developer for not consulting with Sept. 11 survivors during its planning.
The scene at Wednesday's official opening at the building on Park Place, about 2 1/2 blocks from the former World Trade Center towers, was far different from a year ago, when the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks became a platform for groups trying to prevent the center from going forward. Previously, the towering building housed a Burlington Coat Factory, which was damaged in the 2001 attacks and subsequently closed.
The new owner's decision to use the building for an Islamic center, including a prayer space, divided politicians and survivors of Sept. 11 victims, with some saying the project was an insult because it is so close to ground zero. They labeled the center the "ground zero mosque."
Others, who were supported by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said the center was the ideal way to improve ties among New York's diverse groups and give Muslims a place to pray, see art exhibits, watch films and listen to lectures.
But the center is open to everyone, not just Muslims, its developer and the property's owner, Sharif El-Gamal, said Wednesday in an interview on CNN a few hours before Park51 Community Center, as the site is called, opened its doors.
"We are building a community center that’s going to be open to all people. It is based on Islamic values and heritage ... just like a YMCA," said El-Gamal, whose history with the project was covered in this Los Angeles Times story. In fact, El-Gamal says he modeled the center after the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood, where he lives and takes his daughter.
El-Gamal acknowledged some errors in Park51's planning, especially regarding communicating the plans with relatives of people who died in the 2001 attacks.
"We did not know we had to ... discuss this project with them ... but going back, I wish we had engaged the 9/11 family members because our intention was never to hurt or to antagonize anyone," he said on CNN.
Later, at the photography exhibit that marked the center's grand opening, there were no signs of the animosity that once plagued the space. El-Gamal, between congratulatory hugs from well-wishers, attributed the earlier problems to an "incredible ocean of confusion and misconception" that led some people to fear the spot could become a breeding ground for Islamic militants.
Better public relations cleared that up, he told reporters as musicians provided background music and guests viewed the photography exhibit.
The show couldn't have been more benign. It featured photographs of immigrant children living in the United States. Passers-by stopped on the rain-slick sidewalk outside to watch through the windows as the (alcohol-free) gala went on inside. In the prayer space beside the exhibition rooms, men arrived for their evening prayers.
The photo exhibit will go on for about three months. The center also plans to offer lectures, films, youth programs, interfaith coffee hours and even yoga for children.