On Tuesday, Mike Huckabee made it official. The former Republican Arkansas governor and Fox News host launched his second bid for the White House in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, vowing to stop the "slaughter" of abortion and calling for the protection of the "laws of nature" from the "the false God of judicial supremacy."
Huckabee is joining a GOP field that's bigger and more competitive than the one he out-hustled to win the Iowa caucuses seven years ago. The Christian conservatives who flocked to the former Baptist preacher in 2008 can now turn toward other evangelical-minded candidates in the GOP presidential race. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is already in the hunt; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and and ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry are mulling bids. But Huckabee of today is also a far different candidate than the affable ex-gov who once rocked a bass guitar while stumping with Chuck Norris (although Walker, Texas Ranger is officially on board for this campaign too). Since dropping out of the 2008 race, he's flaunted a more combative, occasionally conspiratorial brand of politics—flirting with birtherism, advising prospective enlistees to avoid joining the armed forces until President Barack Obama has left office, and, just last month, warning social conservatives that the United States is "moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity."
By the standards of his political career, 2008 was in many ways an aberration. As he mounts a second run for the nomination, Huckabee is staying true to the kinds of red-meat issues he first entered politics to promote, in a long-shot 1992 bid for Senate against Democratic incumbent Dale Bumpers.
On a relatively quiet night in Baltimore, the Washington Postdropped a bombshell. According to a sealed court document, a witness alleged that Freddie Gray—whose April death has triggered days of protests in the city—may have been deliberately attempting to injure himself while in police custody:
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray "banging against the walls" of the vehicle and believed that he "was intentionally trying to injure himself," according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate's safety.
It's easy to see how a sealed document like that, drafted by a police investigator, might have leaked to the press in spite of the court order, and in spite of the police department's general aura of secrecy. If Gray's injuries were self-inflicted, the police department is off the hook.
But as WBAL's Jayne Miller noted, the new exculpatory allegation appears to be at odds with the police department's earlier narrative, as well as the timeline of events:
BPD Commissioner Anthony Batts on 4/23 told us second prisoner in police van said Freddie Gray was "mostly quiet". ..
And there's another reason to be skeptical. Information that comes out of jails is notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that anyone in jail has a real incentive to get out; cooperating with the people who determine when they get out is an obvious way to score points. This report from the Pew Charitable Trust walks through the conflicts in detail. According to the Innocence Project, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that are eventually overturned by DNA testing originally rested on information from a jailhouse informant. Two years ago in California, for instance, a federal court overturned the conviction of an alleged serial killer known as the "Skid Row Stabber" because the conviction rested on information from an inmate dismissed as a "habitual liar."
Or maybe the witness in Baltimore is right—that happens too!—and what we thought we knew about the Freddie Gray case was wrong. But the department isn't doing much to quiet the skeptics. It announced Wednesday that it will not make public the full results of its investigation into Gray's death, "because if there is a decision to charge in any event by the state's attorney's office, the integrity of that investigation has to be protected."
Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts was riding along with a patrol last May when his officers spotted an object in the shape of a handgun bulging out of the pocket of a man they'd stopped. As recounted later by Baltimore's CBS affiliate, the man struggled with the officers, and pulled his gun. In response, Batts drew his service weapon and put it to the suspect's head. When the suspect attempted to move Batts' firearm out of the way, the city's highest-ranking law enforcement officer punched him in the face—and secured the illegal firearm in the process. A triumphant police department quickly took to Twitter to boast of its boss' exploits:
The move was typical of Batts, a hands-on chief with a history of leading troubled police departments who now finds himself at the center of the unrest ignited by the death of Freddie Gray in his department's custody. Batts took over the Baltimore Police Department in 2012 shortly after the death of Anthony Anderson at the hands of arresting officers, and set about attempting to rehab his department's image while establishing his own cred as an outsider in a new city. He came up through the ranks of the Long Beach, California, police department, and arrived in Maryland fresh off a tumultuous four-year stint as Oakland's police chief, where he took over a department that had been subjected to federal monitoring as part of a 2003 court settlement over rampant abuses. Batts was tasked with curbing the Oakland Police Department's excesses. The results were mixed.
The BP oil spill turned five years old on Monday, and as my colleague Tim McDonnell reported, we're still paying the price: There's as much as 26 million gallons of crude oil still on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. But the story of the Deepwater Horizon wasn't just about environmental devastation—it was also a story about regulation.
In Louisiana, where many politicians rely on oil and gas companies to fill their campaign coffers (and keep their constituents employed), environmental consequences often take a back seat to business concerns. But sometimes, things go even further. Take the case of Republican state Sen. Robert Adley—the vice-chair of the committee on environmental quality and the chair of the transportation committee (which oversees levees)—who played a leading role in trying to stop a local levee board from suing oil companies for damages related to coastal erosion. As Tyler Bridges reported for the Louisiana investigative news site The Lens, Adley doesn't just go to bat for oil companies—he works for them as a paid consultant. He even launched his own oil company while serving as a state representative, and he didn't cut ties to the company until nine years into his stint in the senate:
"He has carried a lot of legislation for the oil and gas industry over the years," said Don Briggs, the industry association's president. "I've never seen him carry one that he didn't truly believe was the right thing to do."
Adley's numerous ties to the oil and gas industry have led critics to say he is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.
Adley said calls that he should recuse himself from the issue because of his industry ties are "un-American" and "outrageous."
"It's what I know," Adley said. "Is it wrong to have someone dealing with legislation they know?"
For the time being, at least, voters in northwest Louisiana have decided that the answer is no.
The culling, conducted by the agency's Wildlife Services division, is controversial. That's because—much like the actual kill list—the USDA's operations are shrouded in secrecy, prone to collateral damage, and symptomatic of an approach that often uses force as something other than a last resort. (A 2012 Sacramento Bee series explored the problems with the USDA's methods in detail.) One of the problems with culling wildlife is that once you've gotten into the business of killing some animals to save other animals, it's awfully hard to get out of it.