Political MoJo

I Was There When an Undercover Cop Pulled a Gun on Unarmed Protesters in Oakland. Here's How It Happened.

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 7:12 PM EST

Over the past 24 hours, photos showing a plainclothes police officer pulling a gun on unarmed protesters in Oakland have gone viral. Tens of thousands of people, and news outlets like Gawker, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and NBC have shared them, often including outraged comments. But there have been few accounts of what exactly happened, and how the incident came to pass.

I was one of the few reporters with the protesters at that point, around 11:30 p.m., and what I saw may add some useful context.

The protest was the latest in a series that have filled the streets of Berkeley and Oakland in the past couple of weeks in response to the lack of indictments for the officers who had killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner. (I covered most of them via Twitter.) Marchers generally remained peaceful. Sometimes they overtook highways and blocked intersections. Parents pushed strollers, students kept stride with older marchers, and people from all across the Bay Area joined in. But there was also infighting among the crowds, and breakaway factions looted stores, smashed windows, and burned trash cans. Police officers responded with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and fired non-lethal bullets*, and their actions were often met with outrage.

Protesters run after police set off flashbang grenades in Oakland, Calif. Gabrielle Canon

Wednesday night seemed as if it was going to end differently. Organizers with hoarse voices rallied the crowd of some 150 with updates on the movement that they said was building across the country. They presented a petition listing demands, including for Darren Wilson to be indicted and protesters who'd been arrested to be released without charges. Starting at the Berkeley campus, the group marched peacefully toward Oakland as a rainstorm approached.

A little girl rides along on her stroller, chanting in a march last week. Gabrielle Canon

About 10:30 p.m., a small group from within the march broke windows at a T-Mobile store and smashed Bank Of America ATMs. Protesters blocked photographers documenting the violence, pushing us and putting their hands in front of lenses.

Marching floods into the streets in Berkeley, CA early on Wednesday night Gabrielle Canon

Shortly after this, police presence increased. Squad cars and white vans full of officers followed the march slowly as announcements rang out over a police intercom informing protesters that police were there for their protection and that their right to demonstrate was being respected. They also warned that any vandalism or violence would lead to citation or arrest.

According to reporter David DeBolt, writing for Inside Bay Area, officials say it was then that two undercover officers joined the march, both wearing dark handkerchiefs and hoods that covered their faces. I had not seen them earlier, and they did not appear in any of the photos I took.

A marcher does a different take on "Hands up don't shoot" Gabrielle Canon

Suddenly, behind me, someone started to yell. A protester had discovered the undercover cops and shouted an alarm. Others began to join in, calling them pigs and telling them to go home. The two men passed me in silence, at a hurried pace. Suddenly, a scuffle erupted as one protester attempted to pull off one of the officer's hoods. The officer tackled someone involved, and was quickly surrounded by a small crowd and kicked from several directions while on the ground. (That officer, who was African American, is who you see in the ground in the photo above.) The other officer stepped in front of his partner and brandished a baton. When the crowd did not back up he drew his gun, pointing at protesters and photographers. Moments later, police flooded the area, scattering marchers and blocking others, as the undercover officers arrested the man who had been tackled in the skirmish.

Protester in Oakland, CA Gabrielle Canon

DeBolt reports the undercover officers were later identified as members of California Highway Patrol, assigned to follow the march on foot. They had been following in a vehicle providing information to stop protesters from blocking highways. Officials said in a press conference that the agency is investigating the incident, but believes the officers did what was necessary to protect themselves. They said that undercover cops had been deployed in prior protests and would be again, and that Twitter accounts had also been used to gather information.

The incident and photo have sparked anger and questions about police tactics in crowd control. Protesters are expected to resume marching over the weekend throughout the Bay Area and I will send out updates on Twitter as events unfold.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the location from which nonlethal bullets were fired. The language has been changed to fix the error.

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Dozens of Staffers Just Walked Out of Congress. This Powerful Picture Shows Why.

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 3:55 PM EST

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of congressional staffers walked out in protest of the recent grand jury decisions failing to indict the two officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The result was an incredible display of solidarity, with staffers raising their hands in the air to invoke Brown's "hands up, don't shoot" image. See the photos below:

 

Rick Perry: Running for President Is "Not an IQ Test"

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 1:59 PM EST

A lot of people think Texas Governor Rick Perry might be dumb. Perry does not think that should stop him from running for president.

"Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test," Perry told MSNBC this morning. "It is a test of an individual’s resolve. It’s a test of an individual’s philosophy. It’s a test of an individual’s life experiences. And I think Americans are really ready for a leader that will give them a great hope about the future."

Here are some clips of Rick Perry being dumb:

 

 

Back From the Dead: Soft Money Makes a Comeback in Congress

| Wed Dec. 10, 2014 5:35 PM EST

Update: Friday, December 12, 2014: On Thursday night, the House passed the so-called Cromnibus government spending bill with the soft money provision intact. The bill moves to the Senate where it's expected to pass.

Soft money—limitless donations pouring into the Democratic and Republican parties from labor unions, big corporations, and Hollywood moguls—was once all the rage in Washington. When the trickle of soft money began in the late 1980s, it was intended to fund building additions, TV studios, and other infrastructure for Team Blue and Team Red. But by the mid-'90s, soft money had exploded—the DNC and RNC raised $263 million of it during the '96 election cycle, up from $45 million in 1988. And by the time of Bill Clinton's reelection, soft money wasn't just funding brick-and-mortar projects—it was supporting campaign activities to elect candidates to office. And the parties went to great lengths to pocket more. Remember those infamous sleepovers in the Clinton White House for donors and fundraisers? All in the name of raising soft money. Soft money was at the core of the campaign finance scandal triggered by Clinton's '96 campaign, the brouhaha that spurred the 2002 McCain-Feingold law banning soft money.

Now, soft money is making a comeback of sorts. A provision added to the $1 trillion spending bill cobbled together by Congress this week to avert a government shutdown would increase by tenfold the amount of money wealthy donors could give to the national political parties. Those dollars would go to fund presidential conventions, physical building activities, and legal work by the parties—an echo of the old soft-money days.

Here's how the new math breaks down. Right now, donations to the DNC, the RNC, and their campaign affiliates (the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and so on) are limited to $32,400 per person per committee each year. If the provision becomes law, donors could give $324,000 a year—a tenfold increase—to the DNC or RNC, while also donating $453,600 a year to the other party committees. All told, that means a wealthy donor could give $777,600 a year to all these outfits, or more than $1.5 million across an entire election cycle. "This is a law for millionaires and billionaires, period," says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a good-government group that backs limits on money in politics.

As the Washington Post notes, this move could nudge the center of gravity in the political-money world back toward the national parties, which have found themselves strapped for cash while independent super-PACs rake in seven-figure checks:

While there would be some restrictions on how parties could use those donations, the creation of new, wider lanes for money to travel into the parties would be a major boon, campaign finance experts said. The expanded avenues for giving would dramatically undercut some of the last remaining provisions of the landmark McCain-Feingold Act, which curtailed the ability of parties to raise huge, unregulated sums.

"It's always hard to predict how much more money will actually be raised when contribution limits are modified like this," said Michael Toner, a Republican election law attorney and former Federal Election Commission member. "But the opportunity is there for the national political parties to raise significantly more money. I think this could be a real shot in the arm for the national parties and it would be a further chipping away of the McCain-Feingold law."

"Money is fungible in American politics," Toner added. "Any change in the campaign finance law that allows additional funds to be raised by parties for specified purposes necessarily frees up funds to be spent electing candidates."

The ability of parties to raise huge sums could help them retake power back from super PACs and politically active nonprofits, which have emerged as major players in national politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010.

Critics of the provision say it will transport national politics back to the scandal-ridden '90s when soft money flowed freely. "This provision would open a door to a new avenue of corruption, and is one more indication that selling American democracy is a bipartisan affair," says Josh Orton, political director of Progressives United, the advocacy group founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

It's unclear who inserted the provision into the spending bill. The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an avid foe of campaign finance regulations, denied involvement. But the provision appears to stand a good chance of surviving. Despite vowing to block an earlier attempt by McConnell to cut down campaign money limits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Politico that he will not block the current provision. "If President Obama signs this law into effect, assuming it passes, he will be joining with Sen. Reid in owning this legislation and the national scandals that are bound to follow," Wertheimer says.

LA’s Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Instagram

| Wed Dec. 10, 2014 1:38 PM EST
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a constituent enjoy a selfie.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is a busy guy. But even the mayor of America's second-largest city—and potential Senate candidate—is not immune to the relaxing, time-wasting powers of social media: he's a prolific Instagrammer.

Unlike the social media accounts of most politicians, Garcetti's Instagram clearly belongs to a real human being—one with a hobby interest in photography. Compare that to the Instagram of New York City's Bill de Blasio, whose feed is clogged with press conferences—no filters to be found. No wonder, then, that Garcetti boasts nearly 12,000 followers, easily topping de Blasio's 7,800. With artsy shots like these, it's not hard to see why:

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Really, though. This is just great composition:

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Beyond showcasing his artistic eye, Garcetti's not afraid to broadcast himself hobnobbing in Hollywood:

 

#MerryGrinchmas #HappyWhoYear #MayorAugustusMaywho

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Like many LA residents, he admires an appealing coffee menu:

 

@primerataza great stop during @ciclavia

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

He can't resist the appeal of a photogenic dog. (The dog in question belongs to California Governor Jerry Brown.)

 

California's First Dog, @SutterBrown

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

He puts his frequent helicopter and plane rides to good use:

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Dude knows how to use some borders.

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

While some take to Garcetti's posts to complain (mostly about helicopter use), the comments on his posts are overwhelmingly positive. Representing most, one user wrote, "Mr. Mayor, I've been increasingly surprised by your photographic eye. You have a great perspective for light and color. Respect." Respect, indeed.

The Senate Just Released the CIA Torture Report. Read the Full Document.

| Tue Dec. 9, 2014 11:30 AM EST

A much-anticipated report investigating torture methods carried out by the CIA during the Bush administration was released on Tuesday. The report has taken nearly five years to produce and was widely expected to condemn the controversial torture program. Indeed, just last week Secretary of State John Kerry asked Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to consider delaying the release of the report given the ongoing threat of ISIS and the safety of American hostages abroad. Former Bush and CIA officials have also been organizing to preemptively challenge the report's findings.

Read the executive report in its entirety below:

 

We're going through the document now. Catch any highlights? Let us know in the comments.

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Watch Dianne Feinstein Address the Senate on Release of CIA Torture Report

| Tue Dec. 9, 2014 10:59 AM EST

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is scheduled to speak from the Senate floor this morning to deliver remarks on the upcoming CIA torture report. Watch live below:

Read the Senator's press release:

 

Mitch McConnell Wants to Open a Giant Loophole for Superrich Donors. Harry Reid Has Vowed to Stop Him.

| Tue Dec. 9, 2014 6:15 AM EST

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is vowing to block any effort by his GOP counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to loosen the nation's campaign finance limits as part of a bipartisan budget deal taking shape in Congress.

Last week, the Huffington Post reported that McConnell, who will take over as majority leader in January, wanted to slip into a major government funding bill a measure that would give presidential and congressional candidates more leeway to coordinate their campaign spending with political parties. Right now, candidates for federal office can coordinate some of their election spending with the parties—but only up to a certain amount. (The limit ranges from tens of thousands to several million dollars, depending on the size of the state's voting-age population.) Beyond that threshold, parties and candidates can't coordinate their spending plans, and the parties must spend their funds independently of the candidates they back.

The existing rule is intended to prevent donors from using political parties to skirt legal limits on donations to candidates. As it stands, donors can give up to $5,200 every two-year election cycle to each candidate for federal office. But McConnell's measure, if enacted, would create a massive loophole in that rule, says Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group that supports limits on money in politics. If McConnell gets what he wants, rich donors who hit the $5,200 limit could simply route further donations to candidates by giving to political party committees—which may accept far larger donations and could work directly with the candidates to ensure the money was spent as the donors intended. "The practical effort here is to repeal the limits," Wertheimer says.

McConnell has a broader plan here. Politico recently noted that McConnell is seeking to direct more big money to political parties, as opposed to outside groups such as super-PACs that in theory must remain independent of candidates. In a subsequent interview with Roll Call, McConnell suggested he might not force the issue, saying his proposal is "not on the agenda" but that the coordination limit he wants to eliminate is "an absurdity in the current law."

That doesn't mean the plan is dead. Should McConnell reverse course and attach this change to the budget bill, Reid's office says the majority leader will block such a maneuver. "Reid strongly opposes and will fight against any efforts to include the McConnell [measure]," an aide in Reid's tells Mother Jones.

House and Senate members hashing out the budget bill were expected to release a version of the legislation as early as Monday evening.

Bill de Blasio Explains Why Encounters with Police Are "Different for a White Child"

| Mon Dec. 8, 2014 11:25 AM EST

In his call for Americans to begin an "honest conversation" about broken race relations in America, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended earlier statements he made explaining why his biracial son Dante needs to be especially careful in encounters with law enforcement.

"What parents have done for decades, who have children of color, especially young men of color, is train them to be very careful when they have a connection with a police officer," de Blasio opened up to ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

"It's different for a white child. That's just the reality in this country. And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don't move suddenly, don't reach for your cell phone, because we knew, sadly, there's a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color."

His appearance on Sunday follows a previous statement he made revealing the personal story of when he and his wife sat down with Dante with instructions on how he should act if he were to ever be stopped by an officer. The anecdote drew outrage from police union leaders who criticized the mayor for "throwing officers under the bus."

In the aftermath of last week's decision by a grand jury not to indict the officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, de Blasio has had the difficult task of demonstrating support for both protestors and members of the New York City Police Department. Many have applauded the mayor for being able to view Garner's death from a raw, personal standpoint.

Backing de Blasio's personal views are a number of studies showing that even absent conscious, blatant racism, our brains are wired with implicit biases that cause all of us, including police, to instincitvely react with prejudice.

After his appearance on Sunday, however, Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association rejected the mayor for doubling down on his comments and suggested the mayor should move out of the city if he can't trust his own police force.

Watch the Bullies Who Protest Outside of Abortion Clinics Get Exactly What They Deserve

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 4:53 PM EST

A video of a pregnant woman delivering a scathing rebuke to a group of anti-abortion protestors outside a London abortion clinic is going viral on social media.

A group of protestors from the British pro-life organization Abort67 gathered in front of the clinic to film women as they entered. In the video, the protestors can be seen denying that they're filming the women, despite the fact that, curiously enough, they were outfitted with cameras on their chests while standing in front of a bloody fetus banner. With their weak denials quickly dissolving, one of the protestors then owns up but explains that the group regularly records their demonstrations to prevent "false accusations we're harassing people." That's when the woman courageously goes off on the protestors:

"It's wrong what you're doing. You don't know why people are doing what they're doing, but you want to be out here judging and filming...You’re standing out here making people feel guilty. I think this is wrong on so many levels. Many people have been abused, you don't know what their reasons are for."

The woman, who has been identified as an employee of a charity group that assists children in need, then suggests the protestors quit trying to guilt other women and instead help out real vulnerable kids.

Bravo.