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Obama Just Announced a Plan to Restrict Police Use of Military-Style Equipment

| Mon May 18, 2015 8:42 AM EDT

On Monday, the White House announced a plan to set new restrictions on local police departments from obtaining military-style equipment from the federal government. The limitation on military gear is part of an ongoing effort to rebuild trust between community members and law enforcement officials following the unrest seen in Ferguson, Missouri, particularly the police response to protesters there.

The announcement is in response to a report put forth by a task force created by the president in December to address broken police relations, especially in minority communities, across the country. Banned items include wheeled-armored vehicles, battering rams, grenade launchers, and more.

"We are, without a doubt, sitting at a defining moment in American policing," Ronald Davis, head of the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, told reporters on Monday. "We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy, to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, but it must also include a presence for justice."

For a deeper look into how local police departments became so militarized, check out our in-depth report, "The Making of the Warrior Cop," here.

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No, the GOP Has Not Lost Its Lust for War

| Mon May 18, 2015 6:15 AM EDT
Sen. Marco Rubio favors the Liam Neeson "Taken" strategy: "We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you."

It seems like only yesterday that the conventional wisdom was that the Republican Party was on the cusp of a major shift in philosophy: The libertarians had made huge inroads into the party and the rank and file was very, very taken with their agenda—most especially their isolationist foreign policy. The fact that there are exactly two senators who might be called true libertarians, Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and no more than a handful in the House, did not strike political observers as evidence that Republican voters might not be quite as enthusiastic in this regard as they believed.

For a piece entitled "Has the Libertarian Moment Finally Arrived?" in the New York Times magazine last August, journalist Robert Draper spent some time with a few "libertarian hipsters." He was apparently smitten with their hot takes on various issues, and how they were changing the face of Republicanism as we know it. Of course, there's nothing new about libertarians and conservatives walking hand in hand on issues of taxation, regulation, and small government, which orbit the essential organizing principle of both movements. Where libertarians and Republicans disagree most is on social issues like abortion, marriage equality, and drug legalization. (The libertarian-ish GOPers have found a nice rhetorical dodge by falling back on the old confederate line that the "states should decide," which seems to get them off the hook with the Christian Right, who are happy to wage 50 smaller battles until they simply wear everyone down or the Rapture arrives, whichever comes first.)

This was now a return to "the real" GOP philosophy, as if the last 70 years of American imperialism never happened.

But what Draper and many other beltway wags insisted had changed among the GOP faithful was a new isolationism which was bringing the rank and file into the libertarian fold. They characterized this as a return to "the real" Republican philosophy, as if the last 70 years of American imperialism never happened. Evidently, the ideological north star of the GOP remains Robert Taft, despite the fact that 95 percent of the party faithful have never heard of him. After quoting Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying that we should cut costs by closing prisons, Draper asserted:

The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington…

The bipartisan "concern" over government surveillance is unfortunately overstated. Polling shows that it ebbs and flows depending on which party is doing it. And regardless of the sentiment, the default solution is to fiddle at the edges, legalize the worst of it, and call it "reform."

And while it is correct to say that Republicans loathe what they perceive as "federal profligacy," there is little real evidence that they think reigning in the military budget is the proper way to cut spending. Politico quizzed a group of activists and "thought leaders" in Iowa and new Hampshire recently on the subject who said that federal debt was their primary concern and suggested that cutting the defense budget had to be on the table. But polling tells a different story. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza noted this in the latest NBC-WSJ survey:

Republicans say that national security/terrorism is the single most important issue facing the country.

More than a quarter of Republicans (27 percent) chose that option, putting it ahead of "deficit and government spending" (24 percent) and, somewhat remarkably, "job creation and economic growth" (21 percent), which has long dominated as the top priority for voters of all partisan stripes.

Beyond those top line numbers, there are two other telling nuggets in the data.

The first is that Republican voters are twice as concerned as Democrats about national security and terrorism. In the NBC-WSJ survey, just 13 percent of Democrats named national security as the most pressing issue for the government; job creation and economic growth was far and away the biggest concern among Democrats (37 percent), with health care (17 percent) and climate change (15 percent) ranking ahead of national security and terrorism.

The second is that national security is a rapidly rising concern for Republicans. In NBC-WSJ poll data from March 2012, just eight percent of Republicans named it as the most important issue for the government to address.

The GOP has carefully laid the groundwork for a full-scale assault on Hillary Clinton on this front with their Benghazi crusade.

Cillizza reported that a "savvy Republican operative" explained that this threefold increase in concern can be attributed to the rise of ISIS and the movie American Sniper arousing the militarist urge in the GOP base. That may be true, but let's just say it was never exactly deeply buried. In the aftermath of the latest disaster of nationalist bloodlust, they kept a low profile just long enough for the rest of the country to get past the trauma of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But it didn't take ISIS or a Clint Eastwood movie for the right's patriotic fervor to return; it is one of the ties that binds the coalition together, and it's never dormant for long.

Moreover, no one should be surprised to see national security returning to the top of the agenda as Republicans set their sites on the first woman Democratic nominee for president. After all, they have spent many decades portraying the men of the Democratic Party as little better than schoolgirls on this front. You can be sure they will not forsake the tactic in the face of an actual woman candidate. Indeed, they've carefully laid the groundwork for a full-scale assault on Hillary Clinton's capabilities in this department with their Benghazi crusade. And as Heather Hurlburt pointed out recently in the American Prospect, there is good reason for Dems to be concerned here:

The majority of voters express equal confidence in men and women as leaders, but when national security is the issue, confidence in women's leadership declines. In a Pew poll in January, 37 percent of the respondents said that men do better than women in dealing with national security, while 56 percent said gender makes no difference. That was an improvement from decades past, but sobering when compared to the 73 percent who say gender is irrelevant to leadership on economic issues.

Yet, aside from the fact that the GOP base has been hawkish on national security for at least 70 years, and that their best opportunity to defeat the (presumed) first woman presidential candidate may lie in deep voter anxieties about a woman's ability to execute the role of commander in chief, we are to believe that Republicans are going to run in 2016 on an isolationist platform. If that's the case, the GOP presidential candidates didn't get the memo. As Karen Tumulty reported recently in the Washington Post:

As recently as two years ago, it appeared that the 2016 presidential contest was likely to become a monumental debate within the Republican Party over national security and foreign policy.

But not anymore. Although national security is Topic A for the growing field of candidates for the GOP nomination, it is becoming harder to discern any differences among them.

The contenders are a hawkish group—at least in their sound bites. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been the most skeptical of military intervention and government surveillance, but even he has proposed increasing defense spending and staged an event during his announcement tour in front of an aircraft carrier in South Carolina.

That's right, even Rand Paul is proposing to increase defense spending. And the rest of them are sounding more like cartoon movie heroes than presidential candidates on the stump (perhaps lending some support to that American Sniper theory). Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who just released his very muscular national security manifesto, the "Rubio Doctrine," probably wins the award for most hawkish speech thus far, thanks to this bit during a recent meeting of GOP candidates in South Carolina:

On our strategy on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie Taken. Have you seen the movie Taken? Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: "We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you."

The crowd went wild. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went in a different direction by first sharing his innermost thoughts:

National security is something you hear about. Safety is something you feel.

But lest he be construed as some kind of touchy feely, wimpy Wisconsin cheese-eater, he then brought the house down with a red-meat cri de coeur:

I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.

The crowd came to its feet and cheered.

Frankly, I feel a little bit sorry for poor old Rick Perry who, back in October, delivered what may be the most aggressive warhawk speech of the cycle so far—before anyone was paying attention. He spoke in London, where there's no shortage of national security anxiety these days:

What all of these various hate groups have in common is a disdain for, and a wish to destroy, our Western way of life.

And someone needs to tell them that the meeting has already been held. It was decided, democratically, long ago—and by the way through great and heroic sacrifice—that our societies will be governed by Western values and Western laws.

Among those values are openness and tolerance. But to every extremist, it has to be made clear: We will not allow you to exploit our tolerance, so that you can import your intolerance. We will not let you destroy our peace with your violent ideas. If you expect to live among us, and yet plan against us, to receive the protections and comforts of a free society, while showing none of its virtues or graces, then you can have our answer now: No, not on our watch!

You will live by exactly the standards that the rest of us live by. And if that comes as jarring news, then welcome to civilization.

(Prime Minister David Cameron seems to have taken notes: He was reportedly set to say pretty much the same thing in his Queen's speech, while adding some meat to the bone by proposing various kinds of government censorship and suppression of activity.)

It's obvious that the GOP is not making the big switch to isolationism any time soon. So what are all those libertarian Republicans going to do? Are they willing to suck it up and sign on to the GOP's imperial project, once again selling out their most deeply held views about America's place in the world for a couple of cheap tax breaks? It's not as if they have to. There is one candidate in the race who has a long record of antiwar positions and is fully onboard with shrinking the military industrial complex until it only needs a bathtub in which to float. He has no interest in worrying about American "prestige" around the world or spending any blood and treasure on behalf of commercial interests.

His name is Bernie Sanders in case anyone is wondering. He's even an Independent, one of the very few in the US Congress. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that any libertarians will join his campaign. Which is also quite telling. When it comes to making a choice between voting against war and voting for tax breaks for millionaires, tax breaks for millionaires wins every time. Their priorities have always been clear—and the leaders of the Republican Party know they'll never have to change a thing to buy their loyalty.

For Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, a Strong Round 2

| Mon May 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
The Traveling Kind
Nonesuch

If only Hollywood sequels were this good. Following Old Yellow Moon, their captivating 2013 collaboration, rootsy stalwarts Emmylou and Rodney have recombined for another go-round, which may be even more entertaining than its predecessor. The two first crossed paths professionally 40 (!) years ago, when Crowell joined Harris’ band. Their recent work together has underscored the virtues of experience and, yes, age. No longer needing to prove anything, both seem as loose and confident as they've ever been, delivering heartrending tunes like "You Can't Say We Didn't Try" with the simple, sure-handed eloquence that marked the Everly Brothers' best, and rockin' out in fine style on the rollicking "Bring It on Home to Memphis." Harris' still-beautiful voice has acquired a darker, slightly rougher texture that adds authority, while the weathered grace of Crowell's singing makes him a perfect match. A fine job by all concerned, including the stellar players.

Blast From the Past: Billy Ward and His Dominoes

| Mon May 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Billy Ward and His Dominoes
The Complete King/Federal Singles
Real Gone Music

Superstars on the 1950s R&B scene, Billy Ward's Dominoes launched the careers of two amazing singers: Clyde McPhatter, who later fronted the earliest incarnation of the Drifters on such hits as "Money Honey" and "Such a Night," and Jackie Wilson, whose high-energy solo smashes included "Lonely Teardrops" and "Baby Workout." While this two-disc, 58-track collection is a mixed bag thanks to the corny likes of "Three Coins in the Fountain" and "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano," the high points are undeniably thrilling. Among them: the outrageously sleazy "Sixty Minute Man," showcasing single-entendre bass vocalist Bill Brown; the funereal lament 'The Bells," wherein McPhatter mixes hysterical sobbing and piercing shrieks in truly bizarre fashion; and Wilson's rip-snorting "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down." Crank up the time machine, pop a top, and let the fun begin.
 

SPOILER ALERT: This Is How the "Mad Men" Finale Ended

| Sun May 17, 2015 11:50 PM EDT

Don creates the most famous commercial in the world:

Vox and Uproxx both predicted this ending!

Here is an interview with Bill Backer, the guy who really created it.

Kayaktavists Take Over Seattle's Port to Protest Shell Oil's Arctic Drilling Rig

| Sun May 17, 2015 1:41 PM EDT
Kayaktavists gather to protest the Polar Pioneer, Shell's artic oil drilling rig stationed in the Port of Seattle.

This article is being updated as news breaks. See below for the latest.

Seattleites took a dramatic stand, er paddle, against Arctic oil drilling on Saturday afternoon. Against the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest city's skyline, around 200 activists, local Native Americans, and concerned citizens took to kayak and canoe and surrounded a giant, Arctic-bound Royal Dutch Shell oil drilling rig currently making a layover in the Port of Seattle.

Despite the oil giant's rocky history in the Arctic region, last Monday the Obama administration conditionally approved Shell's summer plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, north of Alaska. Environmentalists are not happy, and neither are many in Seattle, whose port has become a home base for the two Shell oil rigs' operations. The Port of Seattle's commissioners took heat for their controversial decision to lease one of its piers to Shell, tying the progressive city to fossil fuel extraction and the potential for environmental catastrophe in the Arctic.

As the first of the towering oil rigs arrived in Elliott Bay late last week, a group of "activists, artists, and noisemakers" calling themselves ShellNo organized a series of protests to welcome the oil company. The "Paddle in Seattle" yesterday drew an impressive flotilla of kayaks, canoes, and boats into the Duwamish River, which feeds into the Elliott Bay, to surround the Coast-Guard-protected rig. Below is a roundup of Tweeted pictures taken by people on the scene:

UPDATE, Monday, May 18, 2:00 p.m. PST:

Today, "ShellNo" continued its protest of Shell's plans to drill for oil in the arctic by blocking the entrances to the Port of Seattle's Pier 5 where one of the oil company's rigs is docked. Hundreds gathered earlier this morning at the pier's main entrance to slow operations on the rig, although some rig workers were apparently able to get in through other entrances. Police did not interfere with the demonstration, and at about 1:30PM the group began to leave the pier and march back the way they came. Those present included Native American activists and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant. Some pictures of the event:

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Grinning, Sparring, Losing: Mitt Romney's Surreal Night Inside a Salt Lake City Boxing Ring.

| Sat May 16, 2015 12:06 PM EDT
So, this happened.

Muhammad Ali's winning formula for boxing was to "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." There was plenty of floating, but not much stinging, for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday night, during a two-round charity bout in Salt Lake City, against former five-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

Revealing some prime #grandpabod in bright red satin shorts (remember, he only ate organic on the campaign trail?), and sporting an "I can't believe I'm doing this but WTF" grin, the former governor's sparring skills just couldn't cut it.

The Associated Press captured what's been dubbed the "Quake on the Lake":

Romney, 68, and Holyfield, 52, sparred, if you could call it that, for just two short rounds before Romney ran away from the boxer and threw in the towel, giving up a round early in the lighthearted fight that came amid several other fights by professional boxers and an auction.

The two barely threw any punches and largely just danced around, occasionally lightly jabbing each other in the midsection in what was much more of a comedic event than an actual bout.

Let's be honest: Holyfield, who once famously lost part of his ear in a fight with Mike Tyson, could have knocked out the former governor of Massachusetts with a single punch. But the joyous thing, the meaningful thing, was that he tried. Please proceed, governor:

Romney landed at least one solid jab, it seems:

Kapow! Rick Bowmer/AP

Holyfield then took a fall to make things interesting:

In the end, a ring-side Anne Romney—who always has her boyfriend's back—threw in the towel on Mitt's behalf, and Holyfield emerged victorious:

The black-tie affair raised at least $1 million for Charity Vision, a Utah-based nonprofit that helps doctors perform surgeries for the blind in developing countries. That amount of money is apparently equivalent to Holyfield's net worth, and 1/25 of Romney's, according to Buzzfeed's Tale of the Tape.

After the match, Holyfield apparently quipped to Romney: "You know what? You float like a bee and sting like a butterfly."

And so everyone had an enjoyable time, especially Ann Romney:

Friday Cat Blogging - May 15 2015

| Fri May 15, 2015 3:46 PM EDT

With Kevin continuing to concentrate on his (ever improving!) health, over the past week we've hosted guest blog posts from all-stars like Ruy Teixeira, Aaron Carroll, and Ana Marie Cox. But now that it's Friday, it's time for the humans to step aside for a real star.

It's time to welcome Phelps.

Phelps linked up with MoJo senior editor Michael Mechanic around the time of the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics. While he's not as much of a swimmer as his namesake, one of his favorite spots in his Oakland home is a perch near in the sink, where he can swat his paws through water. Mike reports that Phelps loves spending time nearby while he plays music ("maybe because my fiddling sounds like a cat") and outside, where this "neighborhood tough guy" can face down cats, birds, and dogs.

From his front porch, Mike was witness to one such interaction when a dog got the best of Phelps and chased him up a tree. The incident spurred Mike to compose a little ditty ("Dog Treed a Cat"). Another tabby-inspired tune is "Phelps's Favorite."

And today, Phelps, you're my favorite.

 

BREAKING: Jury Sentences Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Death

| Fri May 15, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

Update: They sentenced him to death.

They are reading the verdict right now. The jury only has two choices: sentence him to life in prison or death.

Here's a live stream from NECN:

 

 

Bonus Friday Cat Blogging - 15 May 2015

| Fri May 15, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

It's been a traumatic week for Hilbert. He and Hopper were upstairs chasing each other around when he made the fateful decision to climb onto the bathroom counter and then leap to the top of the shower door. Why? Who knows. But he did it, and immediately discovered that the shower door railing is only about an inch wide. So he tumbled into the bathtub, and was then faced with an even bigger problem: my sister keeps the shower doors closed when they're not in use.

A good deal of piteous meowing ensued until Karen investigated and found poor Hilbert trapped in the bathtub. She let him out—after taking a picture, of course—and reports that he spent the rest of the evening cuddled on her lap recovering from the indignity of it all.

Karen now leaves the door open and says that the bathtub has quickly become the final resting place for a succession of cat toys. This is probably Hopper's doing. Either that or Hilbert got over his trauma mighty fast.