Jonathan Mossberg wanted to be the Steve Jobs of firearms.
In 1999, a few years before the invention of the iPod, Mossberg began to build the iGun, a computer-chip-equipped "smart gun" that could only be fired by its owner. (The "i" stands for intelligence.) He saw the technology as a commonsense way to prevent gun violence—a no-brainer safety device like seatbelts or air bags. The iGun is a shotgun equipped with a radio frequency identification (RFID) sensor that only allows it to be fired by someone wearing a special ring. By 2000, a fully functional version had endured a grueling round of military-grade testing and was ready to hit the market. "When I filed my patents, my patent attorney said, 'You've got the next dot-com,'" Mossberg recalls. "He was blown away."
Mossberg wasn't the first person to envision a smart gun, but he was well positioned to make it a reality. He was a scion of O.F. Mossberg & Sons, the nation's oldest family-owned gun company, which makes one of the world's best-selling lines of pump-action shotguns. He'd overseen manufacturing for the company and had also served as president of Uzi America, an importer of Israeli weapons.
But the iGun hit a wall. Consumers were skeptical, in part because gun rights groups had been painting smart guns as a Trojan horse for gun grabbers. A few years earlier, gun manufacturer Colt had unveiled a smart-watch-activated pistol, and Smith & Wesson had pledged to explore "authorized user technology" for its weapons. Both projects were abandoned in the face of withering criticism from the National Rifle Association, which led a boycott of Smith & Wesson. In 2005, under pressure from the NRA, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, making gun manufacturers immune from lawsuits related to gun accidents or misuse—and removing another incentive to develop smart guns. (Today, the NRA says it doesn't oppose smart guns but claims they are an attempt to make firearms more expensive and "would allow guns to be disabled remotely.")
Ever since, no major firearms maker has touched the smart-gun concept—including O.F. Mossberg & Sons. "They are doing so well that they have little to gain," Mossberg says of his family's company (which he left in 2000). Though they see the benefits of smart guns, "should this turn into a Smith & Wesson boycott-type thing, they don't want to be associated with that. And I don't blame them."
After shelving the iGun for more than a decade, Mossberg has reloaded. Americans' trust in consumer electronics has grown, along with their concern about gun violence and safety. "The whole thing has gained a lot of momentum again," says Mossberg, who today owns the exclusive rights to produce and market the iGun. He says he receives emails nearly every day asking about its price and availability.
A new survey shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans, if they were to buy a new handgun, would be willing to purchase a smart gun.
Silicon chips have shrunk to the point that Mossberg can produce a 9 mm handgun version of the iGun, tapping a much larger market. While O.F. Mossberg & Sons' research once suggested that gun owners were skeptical of weapons containing circuit boards, a 2013 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun manufacturers' trade association, found that 14 percent of all gun owners were somewhat or very likely to buy smart guns. Though the NSSF spun those results as bad for smart guns, Mossberg sees an opportunity potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. "I know lots of people who would love to get 14 percent of the firearms market," he says. And new research shows the market could be much bigger. A nationally representative survey published by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in December found that nearly 60 percent of Americans, if they were to buy a new handgun, would be willing to purchase a smart gun.
Police departments have also come around to the concept of issuing firearms that can't be used by bad guys. More than 5 percent of officers killed in the line of duty are shot with their own weapons, often 9 mm handguns. In November, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told 60 Minutes that he wanted his officers to have the option to carry smart guns if they were available. More than a dozen law enforcement agencies in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida have tested the iGun in recent months, according to Mossberg.
Smart guns have also gained a powerful ally in Washington. In January, President Obama directed the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense to develop a strategy to promote smart gun research and expedite government procurement of the weapons.
To bring a smart pistol to market, Mossberg says he needs to raise about $1 million for research and development—money that almost certainly won't come from O.F. Mossberg & Sons or any other major firearms company. Following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway announced an effort to fund start-up companies dedicated to promoting gun safety. Conway's Smart Tech Challenges Foundation gave Mossberg a grant of $100,000, which helped generate buzz for smart guns in the Valley. Yet nearly two years later, not a single venture capital firm has backed a smart-gun company. Margot Hirsch, the president of Smart Tech Challenges, says tech investors didn't have smart guns on their radar in the past, but she hopes that now "the VC community and impact investors will be interested in investing, not only to make money, but to save lives."
Mossberg sees no reason why his product should be controversial. "In the 1700s and 1800s, there was still no manual safety device on a gun," he observes, referring to the safety catches that are now ubiquitous on American handguns and rifles. "And then somebody put one on there and nobody cared. This is nothing more than that."
A disruptive smartphone app turned Uber into a $50 billion global juggernaut. Now a group of disgruntled Uber drivers, with the help of their own smartphone app, aims to kneecap the car-hailing service precisely when and where it will be most in demand: Super Bowl Sunday in the Bay Area.
Striking drivers reportedly intend to slow traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events.
For Uber, the stakes are high. The big game is in Santa Clara, about an hour from Uber's San Francisco headquarters. The company has chipped in $250,000 to $500,000 in cash and services to sponsor the Super Bowl Host Committee, according to Quartz. In return, it gets to be the first ride-sharing service allowed to access a Super Bowl game. It will even have exclusive pick-up and drop-off zones at the stadium—a coup for Uber's marketing department, assuming the company doesn't fall on its face.
And that's where Uber's labor problems may come back to haunt it. The drivers, who often make less than minimum wage, are angry because the company slashed fares nationwide over the past month. On Monday, several hundred of them protested at Uber's offices in San Francisco and New York.
The group behind the San Francisco protest, United Uber Drivers, has pledged to hold a massive strike on Super Bowl Sunday, and some Uber drivers in other cities have said they will do the same in solidarity. According to the industry publication Ride Share Report, the drivers intend to slow highway traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events in San Francisco.
That might not be all. United Uber Drivers did not respond to emails from Mother Jones, but downloading the group's special iPhone app offers a bit more insight into its plans:
Other messages explain that when a push notification is received through the app, all drivers will be asked to go offline simultaneously, crippling Uber's network. "We need you to invite every Uber driver you know," urges the first message, written in November. "This communication technology will allow us to invite, unite and strike effectively without any fear or loss of the business relationship with Uber."
But that might be easier said than done. With an estimated 40,000 Uber drivers in the Bay Area, the group will need a lot of downloads to mount an effective strike. Of course, people said the same thing about some startup's harebrained bid to defeat the taxi industry. Uber proved them wrong.
Political bluster flowed after Sandy Hook—and so did millions of dollars in subsidies.
Josh HarkinsonJan. 28, 2016 7:00 AM
Production line at the Smith & Wesson factory in Springfield, Massachusetts
In January 2013, a month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the state of New York passed gun control legislation that included a ban on the retail sale of assault weapons. Soon after, Remington Outdoor Company, the maker of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the massacre, announced it would lay off workers at its 200-year-old factory in Ilion and move production to Huntsville, Alabama. Then CEO George Kollitides explained in a letter to New York officials that the move was brought on by "state policies affecting use of our products."
The gun lobby crowed about political payback: "We hope that sends a very strong message," remarked then National Rifle Association's president, Jim Porter, on an NRA radio show. What Porter didn't mention was what Alabama had done to sweeten the deal: By relocating to Huntsville, Remington, a $1 billion firearms conglomerate owned by the Manhattan private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, would receive state and local grants, tax breaks, and other incentives worth approximately $69 million—the equivalent of getting about $14 from every resident of Alabama.
"I've had CEOs tell me that the offers are so extraordinary that they could essentially move their factories for free," said one gun industry leader.
Since 2003, state and local governments from Alabama to Tennessee have given more than $120 million worth of taxpayer funds to at least seven major firearms companies, according to research by Mother Jones. Most of those subsidies—nearly $100 million—have been pledged just over the past three years by states seeking to lure gun producers from the Northeast, where new firearm regulations have angered industry leaders.
"I've had CEOs in New England tell me that the offers from states' economic development teams are so extraordinary that they could essentially move their factories for free," Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Federation, toldGuns & Ammo. "In some cases they've received these offers almost daily over extended periods of time."
After Maryland passed stringent new gun regulations in 2013, Beretta announced it would shutter its factory there and relocate to a state that has shown "consistent, strong support for Second Amendment rights," as its attorney, Jeff Reh, put it at the time. But politics wasn't the only factor in Beretta's move. The city of Gallatin, Tennessee, eventually won the new factory after it offered Beretta $14.4 million in state and local subsidies. "The level of community support was better," a Beretta spokesman acknowledged in the Charlotte Business Journal, explaining why that city had lost its bid for the plant.
Southern states have long relied on financial and regulatory incentives to attract manufacturers from more industrialized parts of the country. "I think Remington is doing what Mercedes did for us in the automobile business—it opens the door to opportunity," Porter told the Birmingham Business Journal. Yet Porter suggested gun companies would enjoy an exceptional welcome: "You will have the support of the administration, you will have the support of the population—everybody in the state is going to be lining up to work for Remington."
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam flew to Italy and met with the Beretta family in a posh wine country villa.
Major politicians have gone the extra mile to attract gun companies. In wooing the Beretta factory, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam flew to Italy and met with the Beretta family in a posh wine country villa. Haslam later invited Franco Gussalli Beretta, the head of the company's American subsidiary, to the governor's mansion for dinner. Nobody in Tennessee seemed to object to the deal's $14.4 million price tag. "We believe that our brand as the state of Tennessee has taken on new luster because Beretta has chosen to locate here," Haslan said at the groundbreaking ceremony, "and we are forever grateful."
Another incentive for gun companies to relocate south has been lax labor laws. In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, a Sturm Ruger spokesman admitted the company built a new plant in North Carolina instead of expanding an existing one in Newport, New Hampshire, because it wanted to set up shop in a right-to-work state. Similarly, Remington's move from New York to Alabama, another right-to-work state, decimated the New York plant's trade union.
Some Northeastern states have also funneled tax dollars to the firearms industry. Between 2009 and 2014, New York-based Kimber Manufacturing received nearly $1 million in tax abatements and state and local grants—money meant to ensure the company would keep cranking out upwards of 150,000 handguns a year with its factory in Yonkers. Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts have also offered incentives to attract or retain gun manufacturers. But most such enticements are now in the South.
Here are the seven gun companies that have received state and local subsidies in recent years:
Remington Arms, Madison, North Carolina Move: Owned by a New York private equity fund, Remington in 2014 laid off more than 100 workers at its 200-year-old unionized factory in Ilion, New York (the site of its original headquarters) and opened a new nonunion factory in Huntsville, Alabama. Subsidy:$68.9 million in cash, worker training, tax abatements, real estate, and construction work from state and local governments. The company also received nearly $12 million in grants, tax credits, and other benefits from New York, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oklahoma in exchange for training workers and expanding or retaining factories.
Sturm Ruger, Southport, Connecticut Move: In 2014, the nation's largest gun company opened a new factory in Mayodan, North Carolina, instead of expanding an existing factory in New Hampshire. Subsidy:$15.5 million in state tax breaks, employee training, infrastructure construction, and other incentives. The company has also received $150,288 in training subsidies from New Hampshire.
Berretta USA, Accokeek, Maryland Move: The Italian gun maker last year closed its Maryland plant and moved all US production to a massive factory in Gallatin, Tennessee. Subsidy: The company will receive $10.41 million in state-funded building improvements and job training grants. The town of Gallatin also kicked in land and tax abatements worth nearly $4 million.
Smith & Wesson, Springfield, Massachusetts. Move: Publicly traded Smith & Wesson announced in 2010 that it would move its hunting rifle division from New Hampshire to Springfield, Massachusetts. Subsidy:$6.6 million in state and local tax breaks. The company has also received $158,791 in worker-training subsidies from Massachusetts.
Colt's Manufacturing, Hartford, Connecticut Move: In 2011 Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced a deal in which the 180-year-old gun company would open a factory in Kissimmee, saying it showed the state was "a defender of our right to bear arms." But then Colt walked away from the project for unknown reasons. The company declared bankruptcy last year. Subsidy:$1.66 million in state and local incentives. Government officials are now trying to claw back the money.
O.F. Mossberg & Sons, North Haven, Connecticut. Move: The world's largest manufacturer of pump-action shotguns has gradually shifted manufacturing from Connecticut to a factory in Eagle Pass, Texas. In 2014, it added 116,000 square feet to the factory, which now accounts for 90 percent of its production. Subsidy: A $300,000 grant in 2014 from the taxpayer-funded Texas Enterprise Fund.
Kimber Manufacturing, Elmsford, New York Move: America's largest manufacturer of 1911 pistols hasn't moved out of New York—at least not yet. In 2012 the company warned that the state's NY SAFE gun control law might "cause it to reconsider its current expansion." Subsidy: In 2009, Kimber received a $700,000 state grant to expand its manufacturing capacity in Yonkers. In 2012 and 2013, it received nearly $300,000 in local tax credits.
Fifty years ago, one-third of American workers belonged to a union. Today, it's 1 in 10. And that number is likely to slip further if, as expected, the Supreme Court weakens public-sector unions, which today account for nearly half of all union members.
Yet despite decades of setbacks, the labor movement still shows signs of life—and not just in its typical blue-collar stomping grounds. Workers across the economy are realizing that unions can help them win better working conditions and higher wages. Here are five industries where unions have made surprising gains:
Last month, more than 220 writers, editors, and other staffers at the Huffington Post voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. The guild's victory followed other successful drives in recent months at Gawker, Salon, ThinkProgress, and Vice Media. Another union, NewsGuild-CWA, last year helped organize the Guardian US and digital staffers at Al Jazeera America.
Although unions have represented many newspaper reporters for decades, they've only recently begun to penetrate web-only publications. These fast-growing startups typically woo young writers with the promise of huge audiences and considerable editorial freedom—while offering little in the way of salaries, benefits, or family-friendly scheduling.
But as digital reporters have matured, so have their expectations. "The idea that someone will continue to work all his waking hours is not sustainable," Bernard Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild, told the journalism site Poynter.org. "If owners are doing well, workers will say, 'Let's get a bit more reasonable.'"
Most of America's 1 million security guards don't have much security on the job. With scant health benefits and pay that averages just $11 an hour, they are often just one mishap away from disaster.
So some of them are looking to unions for protection. Since 2003, more than 50,000 security guards have won contracts through the Service Employees International Union—often with big improvements in wages, health care, paid time off, and other benefits. In 2015 alone, more than 2,100 security officers in Baltimore, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh formed unions.
The SEIU has focused primarily on the 60 percent of security guards employed by independent contractors, which tend to pay bottom-of-the-barrel wages. In May, responding to pressure from labor groups, Facebook announced a $15 minimum wage and a new-parent benefit for all its subcontracted workers. Google and Apple recently went even further by bringing their security guards in-house and offering them the same benefits as their other workers.
In 2014, private buses for tech workers in the San Francisco Bay Area became potent symbols of inequality and gentrification. Last year, however, they became known for something more positive: union contracts.
It all started last February, when newly unionized drivers employed by Facebook contractor Loop Transportation won a sweetheart contract through Local 853 of the Teamsters. It guaranteed a $9 raise to $27.50 an hour, fully paid family health insurance—a first—up to five weeks of paid vacation, 11 paid holidays, and a pension. "It was just an amazing first contract," says Doug Bloch, the Teamsters' Northern California political director. "They were literally catapulted into the middle class overnight."
The deal sent ripple effects through the Bay Area labor market. The following month, Apple and Google announced a 25 percent raise for all contract shuttle bus drivers. In May, unionized shuttle drivers at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency won a 44 percent wage increase, 25 days off (up from 12), and a 401(k) plan with an employee match.
Other drivers scrambled to join the union, too. In November, Local 853 won a similarly sweet deal for nearly 200 newly organized employees of Compass Transportation, which serves Apple, eBay, PayPal, and Yahoo, among others. Next up on the union's radar is Bauer's Intelligent Transportation, a contractor for Twitter, Yelp, Cisco, and Salesforce.
"In the Bay Area there's a lot of discussion about the intersection between the high-tech economy and income inequality," says Bloch of the Teamsters. Tech companies "are politically vulnerable for the exact same reason, and that created an opening for us."
In the 1970s, two-thirds of college and university faculty was tenured and a third was not. Now those percentages are flipped: Nearly half of professors don't even have full-time jobs. As with other involuntary part-time workers in restaurants or retail, these "adjuncts" often have a hard time making ends meet.
Enter the SEIU's Faculty Forward campaign. Since launching three years ago, it has won union contracts for more than 10,000 adjunct and nontenured faculty at more than 30 colleges and universities, including Georgetown, Tufts, Boston University, and the University of Chicago. Some profs have seen raises of 30 percent.
In a related campaign, the United Auto Workers is unionizing graduate student workers such as teaching assistants and resident advisers. There are already grad student unions at some 60 public university campuses, but a 2004 National Labor Relations Board ruling has prevented similar unions from forming at private colleges—until now. In 2013, worried that Obama appointees on the NLRB would reverse the Bush-era ruling, New York University agreed to let its grad students form a union. The UAW now has campaigns at Harvard, Columbia, and the New School in New York City—the union also is in talks with students at many other private campuses. The NLRB is expected to revisit its 2004 ruling sometime this year.
"When it first started we didn't pay much notice," admits Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the New York local of the Transport Workers Union. "It was just a bunch of bikes."
But then the union heard from some of the company's 150 workers—mechanics and "balancers" who make sure that the racks don't go empty. They joined the TWU in late 2014 and last year won a contract that guarantees parental leave, paid vacation, and 20 percent raises within five years.
The company's workers in Jersey City, the District of Columbia, Boston, and Chicago soon followed, becoming union members over the next several months. "We kind of take the position that if it's public and it moves on wheels," Gannon now says, "it should be TWU and it should be unionized."
The cartel boss' marijuana business has, well, gone north in recent years.
Jan. 12, 2016 7:00 AM
By some estimates, the just-nabbed billionaire drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, supplies more than half the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana that comes into the United States. But not all of those drugs were created equal in his eyes. While pot undoubtedly helped El Chapo get his start, it's no longer the key to his dominion.
Mexico now supplies only about one-third of America's pot, down from two-thirds as recently as 2008.
Guzmán, who was arrested by the Mexican police on Friday, grew up in the 1960s in Sinaloa, the remote, rugged, West Coast state still known as Mexico's marijuana heartland. As a boy, he earned money working in marijuana fields before a friend's father—one of the first Sinaloan farmers to traffic pot in bulk—brought him into what later became the Sinaloa Cartel. And although pot was the cartel's bread and butter for years, El Chapo's syndicate long ago branched into other drugs.
It was a prescient move. Since 2011, competition from high-quality pot grown legally and quasi-legally north of the border has cut the wholesale price for Sinaloan marijuana by 70 percent. Mexico now supplies only about one-third of America's pot, down from two-thirds as recently as 2008. "It's a big difference," a Sinaloan farmer told NPR. "If the US continues to legalize pot, they will run us into the ground."
Like any good businessman, El Chapo understood the importance of a diverse portfolio. In the late 1970s, Mexican traffickers began moving cocaine for producers in Colombia and Central America, first by air and boat to Central America and Mexico, and then by land into the United States. Sinaloa now controls an estimated 35 percent of Colombian cocaine shipments.
Unique among Mexican cartels, Sinaloa is both horizontally and vertically integrated. It produces its own marijuana and heroin, and starting in the 1990s it expanded into methamphetamine. After regulations made it more difficult to manufacture large quantities of meth in the United States, Sinaloa ordered precursor chemicals by the boatload from India and China to supply its own Mexican superlabs.
Even the heroin that isn't grown by the Sinaloa Cartel is likely being smuggled by it. The orange areas in this map show the cartel's sphere of influence in the United States:
The cartel's evolution shows how the legalization of pot has taken business away from criminal syndicates. But it also suggests that the cartels will continue to thrive amid the prohibition of other popular drugs. "It's a reality that drugs destroy," Guzmán told actor Sean Penn shortly before his capture. "Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up, there was no other way and there still isn't a way to survive, no way to work in our economy to be able to make a living."