David Erlich never thought of himself as a kingmaker. He chairs the Alameda County Republican Party, a lonely redoubt of conservatism situated on the east side of San Francisco Bay amid ultra-lefty Berkeley and Oakland. Served by Barbara Lee, arguably the nation's most liberal member of Congress, the district's 400,000 registered voters include fewer than 30,000 Republicans. "We have not been relevant," Erlich concedes, putting it lightly.
Erlich gleefully rips a Rubio sign from the wall and throws it in the trash. "I guess this one we can take down. Thank God."
But that's about to change. With Republicans fiercely divided between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz so late into primary season, the race for the GOP's presidential nomination will—for the first time in at least a half century—likely hinge on the June 7 vote in deep-blue California. "It's exciting," says Erlich, an electrician and enthusiastic Trump supporter. "We can probably make it cool to be Republican again."
California's GOP primary, like its Republicans, is deeply idiosyncratic: Open only to registered party members, the balloting does not take into account the GOP's uneven support across the state. Each district confers exactly three delegates in a winner-take-all election, regardless of how many Republicans actually live there. So the district that represents 166,000 Republicans in conservative Orange County, for example, is worth as many delegates as the one representing San Francisco or Marin or Berkeley—which have fewer than 150,000 Republicans combined. This means the Republicans whose votes matter most are the ones living in the most liberal districts—like Erlich's.
David Erlich is GOP chair in an ultra-liberal California county. Josh Harkinson
Teamsters block a Bauer's IT shuttle in San Francisco.
Citing a history of disregard for traffic laws and acrimonious labor disputes, San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency has declined to grant tech shuttle operator Bauer's IT a permit to use public bus stops under the city's controversial Commuter Shuttle Program. Bauer's IT is one of San Francisco's largest tech bus operators, accounting for 10 percent of the city's commuter shuttle pickups. Bauer's IT clients include major Bay Area tech companies such as Twitter, Yelp, Salesforce, and Cisco.
Does this mean the Twitterati will be tweeting from BART like the rest of us? Not exactly.
According to a "notice of permit denial" sent from the SFMTA to Bauer's yesterday, the company repeatedly broke the law by sending large buses down "weight-restricted streets" and stopping at locations not designated for private buses. It also failed to inform the city of ongoing labor disputes with the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, whose complaints of illegal union busting practices at the company are being heard by the National Labor Relations Board. The Commuter Shuttle Program requires participating companies to maintain "labor harmony."
In 2013, tech shuttles, a.k.a. "Google buses," became potent symbols of inequality and gentrification in the Bay Area after it emerged that the posh private vehicles were illegally using public bus stops to pick up workers. The following year, the city launched a pilot program that allowed the companies to use the stops legally for a nominal fee. That program becomes permanent next month, but requires participating companies to reapply for permits. Bauer's IT could not be reached for comment.
"The SFMTA is enforcing what the City and County of San Francisco is famous for: Recognizing employees' right to be represented and right to and fair wages and benefits," said Rome Aloise, the director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents drivers in Northern California. "Bauer's seems to be just disregarding all of that."
Does this mean the Twitterati will be tweeting from BART like the rest of us? Not exactly. Bauer's IT has 15 days to file an appeal, and can then continue to use its stops until the city makes a final decision.
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.