Remember the holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving? It had a pretty good run for about 390 years—until around 2011, when it began to be replaced with a shopping extravaganza. In the past few years, the traditional dividing line between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the official start of the holiday retail season, has blurred. At many major retail stores, this Thursday won't be a day of turkey and family time but a mad rush for XBoxes and iPhones. Here's how Black Friday's Thanksgiving creep became a full-blown takeover:
Wilson at a City Council meeting in February 2014.
Grand jury decides not to indict: The grand jury reviewing Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson's case in St. Louis County announced on Monday night that Wilson will not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The decision came more than three months after Wilson shot and killed Brown, the unarmed black teenager whose death on August 9 triggered weeks of protests that included sporadic violence and looting.
Twelve jurors—nine whites and three African Americans—reviewed Wilson's case. Their decision continues a long-running pattern of police officers involved in fatal shootings going unprosecuted.
Brown family issues statement: Mike Brown's parents released a statement following the grand jury decision asking protesters keep their actions peaceful:
Restricted air space: The Federal Aviation Administration confirms to Mother Jones that it restricted air space over Ferguson at 10:15 p.m. local time "due to gunfire." The resrtiction was in effect from the surface to 3,000 feet above sea level (about 2,500 feet off the ground), so that's why some news feeds were still working above the area.
President Obama reacts: Shortly after 10pm Eastern time, the president spoke, urging a peaceful response to the news. "Michael Brown's parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes."
Attorney General issues statement: Attorney General Eric Holder has released the following statement, saying the federal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing. (Read more about the Department of Justice's investigation here):
In recent years, more and more big-box retailers have begun forcing their employees to work on Thanksgiving Day. Now, some Ohio state legislators have had enough. They're introducing bills that would give workers the right to refuse to punch in on Thanksgiving, and, if they do agree to show up on the holiday, to receive substantial overtime pay.
"Thanksgiving Day is supposed to be a day when we retreat from consumerism," says Cleveland's Democratic state Rep. Mike Foley, the author of one such bill. "It's a day when you hang out with your family, go play touch football, have a big turkey dinner, and complain about your crazy uncle or cousin—but you don't think about super blockbuster sales at Target."
Foley was inspired by news circulars advertising Thanksgiving Day sales. "My wife said, 'You're a legislator, do something about this.'"
Foley's House Bill 360 would allow stores to open on Turkey Day but ban them from retaliating against workers who opt to stay home with their families. Workers who do show up would be guaranteed triple wages—which would also apply on Black Friday if stores open earlier than normal (12:01 a.m. and earlier openings have become common).
Foley says he was inspired to write the bill last year while leafing through newspaper circulars advertising Thanksgiving Day sales. "My wife said, 'You're a legislator, do something about this,'" he recalls. "And I thought, 'Well, I am.'"
If employers want to treat Thanksgiving as "an opportunity to make money or get above the black line, so be it," say Democratic Rep. Robert Hagan, the bill's cosponsor. "But the fact still remains that they have that responsibility to take care of their workers."
In Middletown, Connecticut, Democratic state Rep. Matt Lesser has pledged to introduce a similar bill next year. "The idea is to discourage retailers" from opening on Thanksgiving, he told the Hartford Courant. "And if they do require their workers to come in on Thanksgiving, that they would at least be paid overtime to compensate."
Laws restricting Thanksgiving Day commerce aren't without precedent. For decades, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island have completely banned most retailers from opening their doors on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The rules date back to colonial-era "blue laws" that restricted commercial activity on Sundays. More recently, some labor advocates have called for a federal blue law to protect Christmas and Thanksgiving. (Don't hold your breath).
Although the GOP likes to think of itself as the party of family values, Foley and Hagan say that the Republicans who control the Ohio Legislature want nothing to do with their Thanksgiving law. Their bill, first introduced last year, was quickly tabled. It's not expected to come up for a vote this year either. "They are on the side of the retailers, the restaurant owners, the people making the money, as opposed to working families," Hagan says. "That's the bottom line."
Still, the backlash against Turkey Day retail has gained some steam. The Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page has more than 100,000 likes. And more than two-dozen retail chains plan to stay dark on Thanksgiving this year, including Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dillard's, Nordstrom, GameStop, and Costco. "We don't believe that we will lose ground to competitors," GameStop president Tony Bartel told the New York Times. "Even if we lose ground to competitors, we are making it corporate principle—we have committed to associates that we will not open on Thanksgiving."
The comparison, so stupid on so many levels that it isn't worth debunking, is not just an isolated example of partisan idiocy. In recent weeks, Republican operatives have trotted out a steaming heap of similar malarkey in an effort to ward off a popular revolt against the cable industry, which wants to charge big companies such as Google or Netflix for faster internet service while slowing it down for the rest of us. Here are four other ludicrous conservative arguments for why the Federal Communications Commission shouldn't prevent this from happening:
The reality: To prevent broadband companies from discriminating against certain types of internet traffic, President Obama's wants the FCC to regulate them as a public utilities. This is something it already does with telecommunications providers. While it's true that the Communications Act subjects telecoms to a 16 percent service fee—which helps provide phone service to rural communities—this doesn't mean broadband providers would automatically have to pay a similar tax.
2) Regulating the internet will stifle innovation and job creation.
The reality: The internet we know and love is already built on the concept of net neutrality. Obama's proposed "regulation" would simply maintain the status quo by preventing monopolistic broadband providers from charging content providers tiered rates for different speeds of internet service. Far from stifling innovation, net neutrality encourages it by allowing startups to compete on the same footing as giants like Google and Facebook. That's why it has overwhelming support among Silicon Valley's "job creators."
3) Letting big companies hog bandwidth will encourage cable companies to create more bandwidth
[T]he answer is not regulations promoting net neutrality. You can already smell the mandates and the loopholes once Congress gets involved. Think special, high-speed priority for campaign commercials or educational videos about global warming. Or roadblocks—like requiring emergency 911 service—to try to kill off free Internet telephone service such as Skype.
The reality: Regulating broadband providers as utilities does not give the FCC more authority to tell them how to treat specific types of content. In fact, preventing discrimination against certain types of content by ISPs is the whole point. That's why net neutrality is popular with everyone from John Oliver to porn stars.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering a massive overhaul of America's nuclear weapons program after finding that "we've taken our eye off the ball," he said at a press conference on Friday morning. The Pentagon released a review of the nuclear forces that found outdated equipment, weak leadership, and abysmal morale among the men and women responsible for maintaining and launching some of the most destructive weapons on the planet. It found, for example, that the Air Force had only one wrench to attach and remove nuclear warheads on 450 ICBMs at three different bases. Maintenance officers would FedEx it among the bases.
The wrench fiasco, since remedied, "is reflective and indicative of a system that has been allowed to slowly back downhill," Hagel said. "We must change the culture of the nuclear force, especially in the Air Force."
"Nothing the Air Force is doing is going to reduce the risk. It's not missileers who are at fault, it's the mission."
The review of the nuclear program was led by Retired General James Welch, a former top nuclear commander whom the Pentagon has tapped repeatedly to assess problems with its nuclear oversight. In 2007, Welch also led the initial outside review of what remains the worst nuclear weapons scandal in recent years: Six nuclear missiles went missing for 36 hours after a crew at Minot Air Force Base mistakenly loaded them onto a plane and flew them across the country. (See our timeline: "That Time We Almost Nuked North Carolina.") Welch later directed two follow-up assessments in April 2011 and April 2013, the last of which noted improvements and concluded that "the nuclear force is professional, disciplined, committed and attentive to the special demands of the mission."
But that conclusion was quickly called into question by a string of new scandals, as detailed in "Death Wears Bunny Slippers," my recent feature story about the ICBM program. In the months following Welch's review, 98 missileers were implicated in a cheating scandal and nine midlevel commanders were fired; a leaked email from the commander of the nuclear missile wing at North Dakota's Minot Air Force base complained of "rot" in the missile force; and Gen. Michael Carey was removed as commander of the ICBM program after an official trip to Russia, where he engaged in "inappropriate behavior," including heavy drinking, rudeness to his hosts, and associating with "suspect" women. Just last week, the Air Force fired two high-level commanders in the ICBM program and disciplined a third for various leadership lapses, including the maltreatment of subordinates.
The Air Force has long struggled to create a balance between strong oversight of missileers and the need to create a rewarding work environment that attracts talented recruits. Following the 2007 missing-nukes scandal, the Air Force instituted a regimen of strict tests and inspections that "was as much punishment as it was rigor," Lt. General Stanley Kowalski, now the Deputy Commander of US Strategic Command, said at the time. In a follow-up report three years later, Welch suggested that the strategy had backfired by sowing mistrust and creating a sense of "nuclear paranoia"—talented airmen were avoiding nuclear weapons jobs.
Missileers see "leaders who demand zero mistakes in every operational and administrative action (an impossible expectation that cannot be realized)," Welch wrote."
In the review released on Friday, Welch reiterated those concerns, citing problems with overzealous inspections and "demand for micro-perfection." At the same time, he noted that leaders had ignored glaring problems, such as silos whose eight-ton concrete-and-steel blast doors would not shut. Welch described "leaders who demand zero mistakes in every operational and administrative action (an impossible expectation that cannot be realized)." He suggested that many of them have been more concerned with protecting their reputations than insuring the overall safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile.
To fix the problems in the force, Hagel will promote its top commanders to give the nuclear wing more clout within the Air Force bureaucracy; create a new service medal to reward high-achieving nuclear staff; and seek to increase the nuclear enterprise's budget by at least 10 percent over the next five years in order to update equipment and expand hiring. (Here's the DoD's summary of the announced changes).
"Our policy is to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy," Hagel said, "but that doesn't diminish our responsibility. As long as we have nuclear weapons, we must insure that they are safe, secure, and effective."
Nobody at press conference asked Hagel why we even need ICBMs, although completely eliminating them is an idea that has been taken seriously within the defense establishment.
Read more MoJo stories on America's atomic arsenal
During my reporting for "Death Wears Bunny Slippers," I interviewed a slew of nuclear policy experts and traveled to Great Falls, Montana—home to Malmstrom Air Force Base—where I spent time with current and former missileers. They told me of the mind-numbing boredom of babysitting ICBMs for 24 hours straight, of cheating on proficiency tests, of how one colonel made them shit in a box because he didn't want to take the missiles offline to fix the toilets. They were basically dying to get out.
The consensus among the experts was that no amount of funding or attention will be enough to fix the ICBM program's biggest problem: obsolescence. "I am deeply disappointed with the happy talk coming out of the Air Force and Department of Defense on this," Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy, told me. (Disclosure: Ploughshares Fund has provided funding for Mother Jones' national security reporting.) "These missileers are in dead-end jobs and they know it. They pull 24-hour shifts underground waiting to push a button that they know they are never going to push, and if they did, they would be condemning hundreds of thousands of civilians to death. What kind of job is that? New helicopters and new managers are not going to fix this problem. Nothing the Air Force is doing is going to reduce the risk. It's not missileers who are at fault, it's the mission."