The National Park Service turns 99 years old on Tuesday. To celebrate, the Department of the Interior has waived admission fees for all NPS sites for the day. That's a pretty sweet deal. You should stop reading this right now, call in sick, and enjoy the great outdoors. National parks are great.
But not everyone agrees. Yelp is filled with one- and two-star reviews of America's most pristine and majestic natural wonders. And honestly, they're riveting. What makes a national park a one-star destination varies from one reviewer to the next. Maybe the tacos at the visitor center aren't up to snuff. Maybe it was cloudy. Maybe the park was too cowardly to cut down some trees for spillover parking lots. Maybe it was President Barack Obama's fault.
Whatever the case, you can thank these people for leaving the campgrounds a little bit less crowded for the rest of us:
I looked it up, and it's true—the bees at Joshua Tree National Park are out of control. In 2000, a group of hikers was attacked by a swarm and one man was stung more than 100 times. They tried to get inside their car to escape, but some of the bees followed them inside the car and continued stinging them. Holy crap, bees! If you were stung 100 times by bees at Joshua Tree, you should give it one star. But maybe it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise that the desert gets hot in the summer. This is like downgrading a restaurant because you went there on a hunger strike.
Carly Fiorina has had the wind at her back after the first Republican presidential debate. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO earned high marks for her appearance at the "kids table" forum for the least-popular GOP candidates, and she has been rising in the polls ever since. So it was only a matter of time before the knives came out.
On Sunday evening, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who herself was doing well in the GOP presidential polls this time four years ago, drew her followers' attention to a 14-year-old speech Fiorina had given in Minneapolis, in which she defended the cultural, legal, and scientific heritage of the Muslim world. The catch: It was delivered just weeks after 9/11. What nerve!
Fiorina's speech reads as a thoughtful defense of the faith of many of her employees at Hewlett Packard. Her respect for Islam seems to come from personal experience. In her 2006 book, Tough Choices, she described the soothing effect of listening to Muslim prayers when she was a teen and her family lived in Ghana. (Her father was a law professor then on a teaching sabbatical at the University of Ghana). She wrote:
I remember hearing, for the first time, Muslims pray, and how over time their sound evolved from being frightening in its strangeness to comforting in its cadence and repetition—I would feel the same peace when I listened to the sound of summer cicadas around my grandmother's house. I grew to love being awakened in the morning by the sound of the devout man who always came to pray under my bedroom window.
Uh-oh. That reminiscence may well provide Bachmann with more ammo. And it's not just Bachmann who has called out Fiorina for being soft on Islam. Fiorina's comments on Islamic civilization have also been criticized by fringe-right outlets like the American Thinker and Western Journalism Review.
Islam has once again become a wedge issue in the Republican primary. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, for instance, has called for a ban on certain kinds of Muslim immigrants. Fiorina, who tried (and failed) to ride the GOP tea party wave into the Senate in 2010 by fashioning herself as a stalwart conservative—is now the target of the extremists she once courted.
Donald Trump spent most of the weekend saying awful things about Megyn Kelly, after the Fox News host had the temerity to question him at last Thursday's debate about his history of saying awful things about other women. That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: Hurling insults at people who cross him is basically the entire point of Donald Trump.
But when he's not saying bad things about Kelly, Hillary Clinton, Rosie O'Donnell, women more generally, black people, Mexicans, President Barack Obama, various members of the press, John McCain, or Mohawks, Trump also makes a lot of good points.
Here are 13 things Trump has been right about:
The invasion of Iraq: In 2003, he told the Dallas Morning-News that the Iraq War had been a "disaster" that "should not have been entered into." "To lose all of those thousands and thousands of people, on our side and their side, I mean, you have Iraqi kids, not only our soldiers, walking around with no legs, no arms, no faces," he said. "All for no reason. It is a disgrace."
Katy Perry shouldn't have married Russell Brand:
.@katyperry Katy, what the hell were you thinking when you married loser Russell Brand. There is a guy who has got nothing going, a waste!
Campaign finance: Although Trump bragged (falsely) about having cut checks to most of the Republican candidates with whom he shared the stage last week, he also made some smart points about the corrupting influence of campaign contributions. "I will tell you that our system is broken," he said during the debate. "I give to many people. I give to everybody, when they call I give, and you know what? When I need something from them, two years, three years later, I call, they are there for me."
Material excess: "While I can't honestly say I need an eighty-foot living room, I get a kick out of having one," he wrote in his most famous book, The Art of the Deal. Both of these statements sound pretty true.
The merits of his cologne, which is actually called "Success" and features notes of juniper, iced red currant, frozen ginger, vetiver, and tonka bean: Granted, you can't buy it in stores anymore because no one bought it, but Success gets 4.5 stars on Amazon.com. User "Kim" writes:
My boyfriend LOVES this cologne. They used to sell it at Macy's but it was discontinued and he was running low around Christmas time...when I told him it was discontinued he was sad that he would have to find another cologne now..but then I found it online here and I was so happy! And it was ALOT cheaper than I used to pay at Macy's! ($62) and it was the big sized bottle like he wanted and it was perfect and he was so happy.
Dick Cheney: "He's very, very angry and nasty," Trump said in a 2011 review of Cheney's book. "I didn't like Cheney when he was a vice president. I don't like him now. And I don't like people that rat out everybody like he's doing in the book. I'm sure it'll be a bestseller, but isn't it a shame? Here's a guy that did a rotten job as vice president. Nobody liked him. Tremendous divisiveness. And he's gonna be making a lot of money on the book. I won't be reading it."
The Drug War: In 1990, well before the political tides had shifted in favor of pot legalization, Trump was declaring the federal government's mass-incarceration campaign a waste. "We're losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars."
RedState's Erick Erickson, who disinvited Trump from the conservative site's confab last weekend due to his remarks about Megyn Kelly:
It's just one poll—the polling average still favors Clinton by a lot in the Granite State and nationally. But it's another indication that the enthusiasm that greeted the Vermont senator's candidacy out of the gate has only grown as he's taken his campaign on the road (nearly 28,000 people came to see him in Los Angeles on Monday).
Sanders, for his part, has taken steps to improve on a set of issues that dogged him early in the campaign. In response to feedback from Black Lives Matter activists, who have disrupted two of his events, he recently unveiled a "racial justice" platform. He also hired a Symone Sanders, a young black activist who had criticized his rhetoric on race and inequality, as a national press secretary. It's looking like a campaign that thinks on its feet. And after Tuesday, Team Clinton is officially on notice.
An outspoken Cantabrigian is launching an exploratory committee for president on a platform of breaking a "rigged system" that's fueling runaway inequality. Unfortunately for progressive activists, it's Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, not Elizabeth Warren.
Lessig, who says he'll jump into the race if he can raise $1 million by Labor Day, has spent much of the last four years fighting what he considers the pernicious influence of money in politics ushered in by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. The two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, have both promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose Citizens United. But Lessig thinks Sanders et al. aren't going far enough. His platform consists of one item—the "Citizens Equality Act of 2017," which is sort of an omnibus bill of progressive wish-list items. It would make election day a national holiday, protect the right to vote, abolish political gerrymandering, and limit campaign contributions to small-dollar "vouchers" and public financing. After Congress passes his bill, Lessig says he'll resign.
Lessig has to hope his newest political venture will be more successful then his 2014 gambit, in which the Harvard professor started a super-PAC for the purpose of electing politicians who supported campaign finance reform. The aptly named Mayday PAC raised and spent $10 million, but only backed a single winner—Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) who was virtually assured of re-election in a deep-red district.
The undercard to the first Republican presidential primary debate featured a motley crew of long-retired politicians (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, Rick Santorum); fallen stars (Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal); former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Participants qualified for the B-team debate by default; all candidates were in the low-single digits in national polls.
But if the Fox News moderators ever considered taking it easy on the Republican also-rans, they didn't show it. Instead, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum appeared focused on whittling down the weak links in the 17-person field by asking them—over and over and over again—why no one seemed to like them.
Here were the first seven questions of the debate:
Perry: "Welcome, governor. You were in charge of the fourth-largest economy in the world. And you recently said that four years ago you weren't ready for this job. Why should someone vote for you now?"
Fiorina: "You were CEO of Hewlett Packard. You ran for Senate and lost in California in 2010. This week you said, 'Margaret Thatcher was not content to manage a great nation in decline, and neither am I.' Given your current standings in the polls, was the Iron Lady comparison incorrect?"
Santorum: "Sen. Santorum, you won the Iowa caucus four years ago and 10 other states, but you failed to beat Mitt Romney for the nomination. And no one here tonight is going to question your conviction or love for country, but has your moment passed, senator?"
Jindal: "Gov. Jindal, you're one of two sitting governors on the stage tonight. But your approval numbers at home are in the mid-30s. In a recent poll in which you were head-to-head with Hillary Clinton in Louisiana, she beat you by seven points. So if the people of Louisiana are not satisfied, what makes you think the people of this nation would be?"
Graham: "Sen. Lindsey Graham. You worked with Democrats and President Obama when it came to climate change, something that you know is extremely unpopular with conservative Republicans. How can they trust you based on that record?"
Pataki: "Gov. Pataki. Four years ago this month, you called it quits in a race for the presidency in 2012; but now you're back. Mitt Romney declined to run this time because he believed that the party needed new blood. Does he have a point?"
Gilmore: "You were the last person on stage to declare your candidacy. You ran for the White House once and lost. You ran for the Senate once and lost. You haven't held public office in 13 years. Is it time for new blood?"
The hits kept coming after the opening round. When the subject turned to Donald Trump, the Fox News moderators took a few more opportunities to twist the knife. "So Carly Fiorina, is he getting the better of you?" the former California Senate candidate was asked. Perry came in for the same Trump treatment—"Given the large disparity in your poll numbers, he seems to be getting the better of you."
One of the most underrated storylines of the 2016 election has been Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's ongoing effort to re-brand himself as a bodybuilder.
Last October, "a source close to Louisiana's Bobby Jindal" leaked to National Review that the governor had gained 13 pounds over just a few months, an indication that he considered "being skinny" to be a weakness in the early Republican primary. In March, an MSNBC reporter tagged along with Jindal during a workout at a Manhattan gym. "Today's legs, but every day I try to rotate it," the governor explained before, presumably, flexing in front of the mirror and downing some brotein. And on Wednesday, BuzzFeedpublished a video it shot with Jindal in which he does push-ups for two minutes. It's some real Rocky IV stuff:
But there's something else going on here. On Tuesday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz cooked and consumed "machine gun bacon" in a video produced by the website IJ Review. (Technically, it was more like semi-automatic-rifle bacon, and you shouldn't try it at home.) Two weeks earlier, the same publication got Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to destroy his cell phone for its cameras, in response to Donald Trump publicly revealing his cell phone number. Jindal's workout tape is part of a new genre of campaign journalism, in which media organizations are producing viral videos that the campaigns might otherwise have filmed themselves.
IJ Review, although only three years old, has forced itself to be taken seriously in Washington media. It will co-host a Republican primary debate with ABC News next year. BuzzFeed, an investigative reporting powerhouse in its own right, has delivered strong reporting on Jindal's candidacy. But these videos are something different—a weird new form of native advertising.
What's that Clickhole mantra? "Because all content deserves to go viral"? In 2016, the same can apparently be said of candidates. Even Bobby Jindal.
With the first Republican presidential debate two days away, Donald Trump is leading his nearest competitor in the national polls by as much as 12 points. In Iowa, the Real Clear Politics poll average puts him in second behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but in the most recent poll of the race, Trump took a commanding 30.9 percent of the vote in a 16-candidate field. As GQ's Drew Magary notes, Trump's comments about Mexicans, China, and many of his opponents have fueled his rise in the state.
So what kind of crack campaign operation does Trump have in the first-in-the-nation caucus state? Who is the dark-arts practitioner responsible for helping a New York City billionaire win the hearts and minds of America's heartland?
Actually, the linchpin of Trump's Iowa strategy isn't a politico at all—she's a former reality TV star who not so long ago starred in infomercials for Bedazzler. Meet Tana Goertz, Iowa co-chair of Trump for President:
On her website, Goertz also hawks a children's book based on her own "inspirational tale" called I'm Bigger Than This; a gray t-shirt, with "ENTREPRENEUR 24/7 365" inscribed on it; an audio CD of business advice she recorded called "Fake it til you make it!"; and information about an Apprentice-like program she runs for kids called "Kids Apprentice Program." The program is "designed to serve children who are self-motivated future leaders" by offering them boardroom experience and forcing them to do "Apprentice-like tasks." For $50, you too could raise the next Donald Trump.
Goertz, who bills herself as the candidate's "hype girl" who "fires up the crowd and educates Iowans on how great he is," was hired by Trump in July. But their relationship wasn't always so strong. After Trump fired her from TheApprentice in 2005, Goertz condemned the show's process. "It was all bullshit," she told a local news station.
Evidently they made amends. Goertz's site boasts multiple testimonials from Trump ("Tana is truly a star!"), and you can even watch her audition tape, in which she tries to sell Mary Kay cosmetics products to middle-aged men:
So this is what it looks like when Donald Trump stays home. The businessman and board game magnate, who is currently leading the Republican presidential field by a mile, skipped the first full candidate forum of the 2016 presidential race on Monday in New Hampshire. His official reason: the host newspaper, New Hampshire's Union-Leader, had already signaled that it wasn't interested in endorsing his campaign. But maybe he had an inkling of what we know for certain now—14 candidates racing against the clock to recite canned talking points makes for a total snoozefest.
The moderator, Jack Heath, deliberately steered clear of any Trump-related questions, which is a shame, because Trump, even in absentia, might have have at least forced the candidates to talk about something besides themselves. As it was, Monday's forum, the first of three such Q&A sessions in early primary states and a dress rehearsal of sorts for the first GOP debate on Thursday, was like freshman orientation in a class of introverts. The candidates were provided the most generic of icebreaker questions (Carly Fiorina was asked for an example of a time she showed leadership), which they promptly segued away from, and pivoted to the boilerplate speeches they've already been delivering in Iowa and New Hampshire for months. Because it was a forum, not a debate, the candidates weren't allowed to interact with each other. Save for Scott Walker noting that no one in his family had been president before, none of them even tried. In a rare moment of drama, the C-SPAN cameras caught Chris Christie with a finger (his) wiggling in his ear.
But there were still a handful of highlights:
Four years after famously forgetting the third federal agency he intended to eliminate, former Texas governor Rick Perry was offered a shot at a do-over. "I've heard this question before!" he said eagerly. Then he pivoted to another topic and never answered it.
Jeb Bush said the president needs to do more to combat the "barbarians" of ISIS, but perhaps wary of unpleasant comparisons to that other Bush (or both of them, really), stopped short of saying "boots on the ground" were needed in the Middle East beyond special forces troops.
Fortunately, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was happy to do just that, calling on an America-Turkish-Egyptian force to bring Syria back under control. He'd tell those allies, "You're gonna pay for this war, we paid for the last two. We are gonna pull the caliphate up by its roots."
Graham, who could surely use the boost, also got a laugh from the audience when he suggested that the solution to Washington's gridlock was to "drink more."
Ben Carson announced that he would reform the tax code by consulting with "the fairest individual in the universe—that would be God." The result, he explained, would be a base tax rate of around 10 to 15 percent, similar to a church tithe. But an hour later, he informed the audience that taking more than 10 percent of a billionaire's income is "called socialism."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said President Obama has "declared war on trans-fats and a ceasefire with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism." (That would be Iran.) His first act as president: hold a huge meeting with the Joint Chiefs to announce that America "is back."
Much has been made of the Republican party's recent shift toward criminal justice reform, which includes lighter sentencing for many drug crimes. But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offered a snapshot on how elements of the party might push back. Seizing on northern New England's heroin epidemic, he reprised an argument that any legalization of marijuana except for strictly medicinal uses would only contribute to drug abuse. Expect this to come up again at a later date, when candidates are allowed to talk to each other.
How will the next president's policies on climate change be affected by the White House's big new plan to fight global warming? We still have no idea, because only one candidate was asked about the proposal, and then only in passing. For the record, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says it will be a "buzzsaw to the nation's economy."
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told supporters in Iowa on Thursday that if he were elected president he would consider using the FBI or National Guard to end abortion by force. Per the Topeka Capital-Journal:
"I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this," Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.
At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: "All American citizens should be protected."
Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: "We'll see if I get to be president."
That's crazy. The right to an abortion has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Huckabee is saying he might simply disregard the judicial branch and stop the practice unilaterally—that is, he'd remove the checks from "checks and balances." It's not the first time he's proposed a constitutional crisis as an antidote to things he doesn't like. Huckabee has also said states should practice civil disobedience by ignoring the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.
The pro-Chris Christie super-PAC America Leads raised $11 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to filings released by the Federal Election Commission on Friday. Controversial hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen gave $1 million. Cleveland Cavaliers owner (and Quicken Loans chief) Dan Gilbert gave $750,000. Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and WWE magnate Linda McMahon each dropped $250,000. New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon dropped $100,000 that his team's fans dearly wish he'd spent on an outfielder.
Oh, and it's hardly the biggest donation on the list, but America Leads also got $10,000 from an unusual source—a media company. The check came from American Media Inc., the parent company of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, OK!, and Star; and fitness publications like Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness; and Flex. What's the Christie connection? In June, the governor named American Media Inc.'s chairman, David Pecker, to his presidential leadership team.
We can't speak for Flex, but the normally scandal-happy Enquirer has been bullish about Christie's chances. Last April, it published an "EXCLUSIVE!" boasting that the governor's White House dreams were "alive" because "American politics is full of comeback stories." And in February, it published another item touting Christie's chances despite "hatchet job" corruption claims.
Donald Trump's preparation for the upcoming Republican presidential primary debate is "low key, absolutely low stress," adviser Chuck Laudner told the Washington Poston Wednesday. "This isn't 50 consultants locked in a war room, with a fake podium and cardboard cutouts of the other candidates, playing the game of Risk."
Maybe that's because Trump has a different board game of choice—his own. In 2004, as his reality television show The Apprentice was just getting underway, he unveiled the latest in a long line of short-lived ventures. (Hello, Trump Steaks.) It's called TRUMP: The Game, and according to an introductory letter from the billionaire that was included in a set I recently acquired for $4 on Amazon, "the object of the game is to make the most money." Surprise!
Live the fantasy! Feel the power! And make the deals! Photo by Tim Murphy
Much like his presidential campaign, TRUMP: The Game was a reboot of an earlier failed Trump venture, a 1988 Milton Bradley product also called TRUMP: The Game. The tagline for that was "It's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you win!" A television ad for TRUMP: The Game 1.0 boasted that all proceeds from the game would be donated to charity. (This was his Paul Newman phase, evidently.) The 2004 version abandoned the charitable pretense, and replaced the old tagline with a bolder, fresher take: "IT TAKES BRAINS TO MAKE MILLIONS. IT TAKES TRUMP TO MAKE BILLIONS."
Did I have the brains to make millions? Did I have the TRUMP to make billions? Was I, in fact, Donald Trump? I recruited three Mother Jones political reporters—Pat Caldwell, Pema Levy, and Molly Redden—to help me take TRUMP: The Game for a spin.
Here are a few things you should know about the game:
It's for three to four players. Cramped and short-lived—it's the Trump Shuttle of board games. This is a great game if you don't have very many friends.
The box specifies that TRUMP: The Game should only be played by adults. (If you are a child reading this, please stop now.) What? Is this is a board game about pre-nups? Is scalp-reduction surgery involved? If it's for adults, why is an oversized six-year-old on the cover? I kept waiting for the game to reveal some darker, truer, more adult nature, but it never did.
The dice have six sides. Five of the sides have the traditional numbers on them. But the sixth side just has a big letter T on it, for "Trump." Anytime you roll a "Trump," you get to steal something from someone else.
But you don't roll the dice very often—maybe once every few turns, depending on your strategy. TRUMP: The Game borrows the architecture of a classic game, Monopoly, and then renovates it until there's nothing left but a flashy facade.
The most exciting part of the game is bidding on properties. Like Monopoly, you buy properties and try to make money off of them. Trump recommends buying as many properties as you can! But there are only seven properties (including a luxury residence, an international golf course, and a casino—only the finest and most luxurious properties are for sale here), so you can't really do that. It's not possible, either, to simply attach your name on the side of someone else's building in big letters and just own a penthouse there.
When a property goes up for sale, players take turns raising their bids or taking a pass, until someone has outbid everyone else. Then that person own the property. Unless someone else ejects that person from the bidding by playing a card that says "You're fired!" (Actually it says, "YOU'RE FIRED! You are out of the bidding and you cannot fire anyone!" Since when can people who have just been fired fire other people?)
Don't get any ideas! Tim Murphy
If you've been fired, you can get back into the bidding by playing a special card featuring Donald Trump's face. This is, for some reason, not called "the Trump Card." Instead it's called a "The Donald"—definite article included. Like "The Gambia." There are 16 You're Fired! cards but only four The Donalds, meaning that bidding wars often consist entirely of people playing the "You're Fired!" card over and over and over. The unemployment rate in Donald Trump's game is 75 percent. I don't know why you can fire people who don't even work for you. But this is how capitalism works.
A "The Donald." Tim Murphy
Instead of paying taxes to the government, there is a card that, if played, forces other players to pay property taxes to you. ("Trump Tip: I would play this on someone with more than one property.") That is not a tax. That is just a shakedown.
At the end of the game, the person with the most money wins. Fair. What's weird is that there's basically no way to lose money, short of occasionally paying taxes to other people. Instead of losing money when you land on properties owned by rivals, as in Monopoly, you take money from the bank that doesn't belong to you (don't worry about paying it back) and give that money to the player who owns the property. All overhead costs are covered by the banks. The result: the bank is sinking much of its money into a giant real-estate bubble. What could go wrong?
Trump, apparently pressed for time, borrowed the color-coded currency from Monopoly—the lowest denomination is white; the middle is green; the highest is orange. The major difference is that the lowest denomination is $10 million and the highest is $100 million. He basically took Monopoly money, stuck his face on it, and added a bunch of zeroes.
Anthropomorphic stick of dynamite Michael Bay, the director of The Rock, Armageddon, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, and four Transformers movies (also Pain and Gain—don't forget Pain and Gain!), has made a movie about the September 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.
The movie's release date is January 15, 2016—just in time for the Iowa caucuses.
The film, 13 Hours, based on a book by the same name, is sure to prompt lots of discussion—intelligent and otherwise—on the presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time of the attack. Here's the trailer:
Last year I told you about a radical new approach to reducing gun violence in Richmond, California, a city that had suffered for years under the toll of one of the nation's highest homicide rates. The city threw money and police at the problem, but the rate of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings remained. The human toll was staggering. In 2007, the low point, there were 45 homicides involving a firearm in the city of 106,000. Finally, it decided to try something entirely new:
Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached [Devone] Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren't the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who'd been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?
In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that's introduced the "Richmond model" for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program's street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. "It's the only agency where you're required to have a criminal background to be an employee," Boggan jokes.
It was a crazy idea. But since ONS was established, the city's murder rate has plunged steadily. In 2013, it dropped to 15 homicides per 100,000 residents—a 33 year low. In 2014, it dropped again. Boggan and his staff maintained that their program was responsible for a lot of that drop-off by keeping the highest-risk young men alive—and out of prison. Now they have a study to back them up.
On Monday, researchers from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a non-profit, published a process evaluation of ONS, studying its impact seven years in. The conclusion was positive: "While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond."
As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.
"While replication of the Fellowship itself may be more arduous because of the dynamic leadership associated with the current model, the framework of the Fellowship could be used to improve outcomes for communities across the country," the study's authors wrote. "The steps taken to craft programming developed with clients in mind, and being responsive to their needs and the needs of the community, can serve as a model."
At least one person rejects the idea that President Barack Obama is launching a second Holocaust—President Barack Obama. Responding to the former Arkansas governor's comments while on a state visit to Ethiopia, Obama said Huckabee's comment "would be considered ridiculous if it wasn’t so sad." Huckabee is among a handful of GOP candidates who appaear to have been hurt by the rise of Donald Trump. We'll see if the most recent stunt will help him make up some ground.
Donald Trump's antics have caused his fellow Republican presidential candidates to take crazy—and, in some instances, pyrotechnical—steps to get attention. Rand Paul took a chainsaw to the tax code. Lindsey Graham torched his cell phone. And here is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's official response to President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran:
Between his juvenile name-calling, dubious boasts, short attention span, constant need for attention, and temper tantrums when things don't go his way, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump often resembles an oversized six-year-old. So far, that approach has helped him vault to the top of the field, and left his fellow contenders so desperate for attention they're literally destroying documents with chainsaws. As Trump prepares for the first Republican primary debate next month in Cleveland, he is presenting himself as the ultimate wild card, capable of saying anything to anyone with little thought for the consequences.
That can pose problems for candidates and debate moderators, who are used to dealing with fully grown adults and have struggled to respond to his campaign-trail antics. To understand how Jeb Bush et al. might best react to a Trump tantrum on the debate stage next month, I reached out to someone with expertise on dealing with six-year-olds: an actual public-school kindergarten teacher.
Our teacher is from New York, like Trump, and has (like everyone else, apparently) been granted anonymity to speak candidly without being called a "dopey clown" by Trump. Here's an abridged email transcript:
MJ: Is it fair to say you’re used to dealing with childish behavior?
Public-school teacher: I teach kindergarten, but have also taught 2nd grade and Pre-K in the past. Childish behavior is my milieu.
MJ: What is an example of the childish behavior you deal with in a typical day?
PST: Extreme neediness would probably be the defining characteristic. It is a constant barrage of very small people constantly saying my name, pulling at my clothing, pulling on my body in general. If those efforts fail to get my attention, it escalates to yelling, interrupting others who have my attention at that particular moment, and sometimes a little bit of elbowing to the front of the line. They all want to be first, they all want to be in charge, and few of them understand that nobody gets to be "the best" all the time. This is how things are at the beginning of kindergarten; by the time a few weeks have passed, the children have learned that things don't work that way.
And nose-picking. Always the nose-picking.
MJ: What kinds of insults do students like to use at that age?
PST: I am extremely strict about how the students treat each other (always with kindness), so this issue doesn't arise very often. But the few times it has, they usually either make up something totally nonsensical, or repeat something that they have heard their parents say at home, or sometimes things they have heard on TV. I've heard everything from "poopyhead" to "motherfucker."
"I have found that most kids are 'reformed' very quickly when they take some time to consider how their unkind words make others feel."
MJ: What are some tips you have for dealing with this kind of name-calling?
PST: Find out the motivation, teach empathy, provide time to think about the effects of name-calling, suggest (but not force) an apology if the student doesn't come up with this idea on his/her own. If it continues to be a problem, treat it not as a momentary lapse in self-control or poor judgement, but as a negative choice that deserves negative consequences. If improvement is seen in a chronic offender, positive consequences (praise, recognition of behavioral improvement) should be offered. Either type of consequence needs to be doled out swiftly.
PST: It depends on how mature the students are, how far along in the year it is, etc. In most cases, I would probably watch to see how the insultee (is that even a word?) reacts. If he/she handled the situation adequately, I would probably let it go and keep an extra close eye on the insulter (again...a real word?). If I had to intervene, I would go through the steps listed above, and probably assign the student some thinking time during recess (during which the student is not allowed to play--the student has to think about what he/she did to land in thinking time, tell me why it was wrong, and how it should be handled in the future; anyone who doesn't come up with an adequate answer needs to think longer). If it was a chronic issue, I would also contact the parents to make them aware of the situation. In extreme cases, I would have the student speak with an administrator and would create a behavior modification plan.
MJ: Do kids generally grow out of this kind of thing?
PST: Not unless they are taught that it's inappropriate. Kids who are rude will continue to be rude until someone teaches them that's it's not okay, and takes the time to show them a different way. Fortunately, I have found that most kids are "reformed" very quickly when they take some time to consider how their unkind words make others feel.
MJ: If someone has been doing this kind of thing for 30 years, do you think that would be cause for alarm?
PST: Clearly. I see only four reasons why an adult would resort to name-calling on a regular basis:
1. Said person is a sociopath who has no ability to empathize
2. Nobody ever took the time to teach said person that there are better way to deal with conflict
3. Said person has been a victim for so long that he or she is constantly on the defensive and is actively trying to drive others away
4. Said person is an asshole
Reasons 1-3 make me feel sad for that person. Reason 4 does not.
President Barack Obama visited a federal prison in Oklahoma last week to discuss sentencing reform for non-violent drug offenses. At an event in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson revealed that he, too, had visited federal prisons—and had a much different takeaway. Federal prisons are really nice!
"I was flabbergasted by the accommodations—the exercise equipment, the libraries and the computers," he said. He said he was told that "a lot of times when it's about time for one of the guys to be discharged, especially when its winter, they'll do something so they can stay in there."
"I think that we need to sometimes ask ourselves, 'Are we creating an environment that is conducive to comfort where a person would want to stay, versus an environment where we maybe provide them an opportunity for rehabilitation but is not a place that they would find particularly comfortable?'" he told reporters.
Not all federal prisons are alike, but to put his experiences in perspective, Carson may want to read up on the federal maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado:
A federal class-action lawsuit filed in June alleges that many ADX prisoners suffer from severe mental illness that has been exacerbated or even caused by their years of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in small concrete cells. It claims that the BOP fails to provide even a semblance of psychiatric care to these prisoners, with grisly results. According to a litigation fact sheet, "inmates often mutilate themselves with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils and other objects. Many engage in prolonged fits of screaming and ranting. Others converse aloud with the voices they hear in their heads. Still others spread feces and other waste throughout their cells. Suicide attempts are common. Many have been successful.
Four days after mocking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for being captured in Vietnam, Donald Trump is at the top of the Republican presidential polls. Despite his history of political flip flops, Trump has gained traction with red-meat-loving conservatives by skewering and belittling establishment figures such as McCain and Karl Rove, questioning President Barack Obama's legitimacy, and attacking undocumented immigrants. But he's also been quick to fling insults at anyone who ever says anything bad about him—other celebrities, journalists, legislators, and this one poor guy from Bermuda. Donald Trump insults people.
And now you, too, can be insulted by the tirade-prone tycoon—with the Mother Jones Donald Trump Insult Generator™. Just enter your name (or your friend's name, or the name of your favorite stupid clown political pundit with bad ratings) and give it a spin. Just don't expect an apology:
Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada, one of three new monuments created by President Obama in July.
For the last half century, Michael Heizer has been working on a secretive project in an isolated patch of the Great Basin Desert in southeast Nevada. It is an abstract art installation, more than a mile in length and a quarter mile in width, inspired by the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, and exhaustively carved out of concrete and dirt. "[I]t may be the most ambitious sculpture anyone has ever built," the New York Times recently declared—"a pristine, lunar stretch of stark and unspeakable beauty, an hour's bumpy drive from the nearest paved road." It is almost certainly the only piece of remote land-art that is likely to become a campaign issue during the quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Dubbed "City," Heizer's work is predicated on emptiness, and the artist and his patrons have long feared that his tableau would be marred by the development of the surrounding pubic lands. (He once threatened to destroy City when the Bush administration proposed building a nuclear waste dump at nearby Yucca Mountain in 2004.) Fortunately, Heizer has friends in high places. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who calls Heizer's project "priceless," lobbied President Barack Obama to protect the region surrounding City, known as the Basin and Range. In early July, citing his powers under the Antiquities Act of 1906, Obama signed an executive order designating a Rhode Island-sized swath of Nevada as a new national monument. One of the reasons the White House gave was to protect City, which it hailed as "one of the most ambitious examples of the distinctively American land-art movement."
The monument designation, which affords a degree of protection similar to that of a national park, guarantees that City and its surroundings will survive intact for generations to come. And for the Republican presidential field, therein lies the problem.
The beautiful new Basin and Range National Monument will feature the modern art sculpture City. Come visit soon! pic.twitter.com/yURmChiyTe
Basin and Range National Monument is a feather in the cap of Obama and Reid (who quoted cowboy poetry in praise of the proclamation), but it represents something far more nefarious to Nevada Republicans—a federal power grab of already precious resources. Which means that opposition to Basin and Range's monument designation stands a good chance of becoming a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates courting Nevada voters ahead of next February's first-in-the-West presidential caucus.
Not long after the ink had dried on the president's signature, Ben Carson slammed the decision, declaring that he was "deeply offended" at the president's "disregard for discovering common sense decisions when it comes to deciding how best to protect natural resources and reconcile the economic impacts into local communities."
After a town hall in Carson City last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush followed suit. "I don't think expanding the narrowing use of public lands is appropriate," he told reporters. "There's ways you can build consensus to protect the natural environment and allow people to access their land."
Although most of the Nevada's voters live in a handful of urban counties, the Basin and Range backlash fits neatly into the larger conservative critique of federal power in the Obama age. Heizer, who owns the land City sits on, is the exception in Lincoln County, where 98 percent of the land belongs to the federal government. Elevating that land to monument status puts it that much more out of reach for uses such as mining*. The state's three Republican congressmen pushed a bill in January that would have prohibited the creation of new national monuments in Nevada without congressional authorization. (Rep. Mark Amodei angrily dubbed Basin and Range "Hairy Berry National Monument," a weird riff on Reid and Obama's first names.) Popular GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose endorsement is coveted by 2016 candidates, also criticized the Obama administration's move.
The fight over public lands in the West has only intensified in recent years. It was in rural Nevada last year, a few hours south of City, that rancher Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff against Bureau of Land Management agents over unpaid grazing fees. Few elected officials took Bundy's side directly—especially after he started talking about "the Negro"—but his complaint of federal overreach struck a chord.
Case in point: When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) visited the state last month, he met privately with Bundy for 45 minutes. Paul hasn't weighed in on Basin and Range directly, but two weeks before Obama's proclamation, he reiterated his call for all of Nevada's federal lands to be turned over to the state. "State ownership would be better, but even better would be private ownership," Paul said. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) hasn't gone quite as far as Paul, but in 2014 he proposed an amendment to a piece of hunting legislation that would have prohibited the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any state—meaning he would have put 31.1 percent of Nevada up for sale. (The bill failed.) Cruz's campaign did not respond to a request for comment about his position on Basin and Range specifically.
For now, only two 2016 contenders have weighed in directly. But the campaign is only just picking up steam. At least seven candidates will attend a candidate forum near Lake Tahoe next month. We'll see if they take a stand on City, and the 704,000 acres that now protect it.
*Correction: This piece originally suggested that the new national monument would be off-limits to ranching.
"Tinted meatball" Donald Trump attacked the Vietnam service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at a social conservative confab in Iowa on Saturday, boasting that the 2008 Republican presidential nominee was only considered a war hero "because he was captured."
"I like people that weren't captured, okay?," he told moderator Frank Luntz.
Trump, who missed the Vietnam War after getting a series of student and medical deferments, has now left an opening for the Republican presidential candidates who trail him in the polls (which is most of them) to get a few clean jabs in. But it's not as simple as it sounds. McCain is not a popular figure among conservative activists, and the entire appeal of Trump is that he says things like this about people that conservative activists don't like. (It certainly wouldn't be the first time conservative voters overlooked a gratuitous shot at a candidate's war record because they didn't like his politics.)
This retort, from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Washington's most notorious immigration hawk, is just weird.
I uh...didn't know that. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro is Mexican-American, the son of a noted Chicano political activist from San Antonio. A local newspaper profile in 2002 describes King's ancestry as Irish, German, and Welsh. Steve King is not Hispanic or Latino by any conventional definition.
We've reached out to King's office for clarification and will update if we get a response.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's latest fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission shows that his campaign brought in an impressive $8.5 million over the last three months—four times as much as Mike Huckabee, a politician with comparable appeal among Sean Hannity-watching conservative activists. Yet during that same period—a time in which Carson was sporadically campaigning while giving paid speeches, struggling to retain staff, and not running any television ads—Carson managed to spend a whopping $5.4 million. Much of that money went toward more fundraising, because his campaign depends heavily on third-party direct-mail firms. But, in stark contrast to Carson's fiscal conservative message, his campaign spent big money on private jets, luxury hotels, and slickly produced events.
Carson's campaign kickoff, for instance, came with a hefty price tag. While other candidates, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have taken advantage of cheap outdoor public spaces and free media, Carson dropped $25,448 to rent the Detroit Music Hall. The campaign also spent $64,521 on "musical entertainment" over the last quarter, much of it on the kickoff event. That included $20,000 paid to Alexi von Guggenberg, the producer of the song that plays in the background of this Carson campaign video, which has less than 30,000 views on YouTube; $15,500 to the Selected of God choir, which performed at his Detroit event; $10,271 to the contemporary classical vocal group Veritas, which also performed a few songs at his kickoff; and $18,750 to producer Kevin Cates.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a few things in common with a superhero from the Marvel universe. The Democratic presidential candidate bills himself as an underdog waging battle against evil tycoons who exploit the citizenry in pursuit of cartoonish riches. A band of loyal followers hangs on his every adventure. And some people think he's from another planet.
His is an unconventional campaign, so it was only logical that in May he picked an unconventional operative to run it—the owner of a comic book shop. A longtime Sanders friend and advisor, Jeff Weaver had worked on Sanders' campaigns and in his Washington offices for more than two decades. But before he came on board Bernie 2016, Weaver had retired from politics to launch one of the DC-area's biggest gaming businesses.
Last month Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent socialist seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, repudiated a 1972 essay he wrote for the Vermont Freeman, an alternative newspaper, which included depictions of a rape fantasy from male and female perspectives. On Meet the Press, he dismissed the article as a "piece of fiction" exploring gender stereotypes—"something like Fifty Shades of Grey."
Yet as the New York Timesrecently reported, during his years as a contributor to the Freeman in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sanders often wrote about sexual norms, as he presented a broader critique of repressive cultural forces that he believed were driving many Americans literally insane. His early writings reflect a political worldview rooted in the fad psychology and anti-capitalist rhetoric of the era and infused with a libertarianesque critique of state power. Sanders feared that the erosion of individual freedom—via compulsory education, sexual repression, and, yes, fluoridated water—began at birth. And, he postulated, authoritarianism might even cause cancer.
Yet he insisted that individual acts of protests could turn things around—a belief that would give rise to his political career.
On Wednesday, after the New York Times proposed adding peas to guacamole (what's next, mayonnaise?), President Barack Obama announced that the proper way to make guacamole is with avocado, onions, garlic, and hot pepper. It wasn't the first time the leader of the free world had disparaged peas. In 2011, when Congress stalled on raising the debt ceiling, he announced that it was time for all parties involved to "eat our peas"—swallow the tough pill, if you will.
But Obama's anti-pea polemic, published just days before the Fourth of July, puts him at odds with an important group of Americans—the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers loved peas.
Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, was the English pea. He cultivated 19 different kinds of peas in the Monticello vegetable garden, including 15 kinds of English peas. Among them were Marrowfat, Hotspur, Blue Prussian, and Early Frame. (Jefferson even spoke with Mother Jones about his peas in February.) Letters to his daughter, Mary, often made reference to the status of the peas. Here he is discussing peas in a letter to George Washington:
Peas weren't just sustenance for Jefferson. They were a way of life; every year he would hold a contest with his neighbor to see whose peas would sprout first. Per the Monticello website:
Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.
As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"
Divers, that clever knave! There's even a children's book, First Peas to the Table, inspired by Jefferson's fruitless obsession with winning at peas.
Jefferson's friends in government got in on the action too. At his prodding, George Washington attempted to plant English peas at Mount Vernon, with mixed results. But Washington loved peas so much that when a bunch Tories attempted to kill him, they did so by poisoning a dish of his favorite food—peas. Wise to the plot, a 13-year-old girl fed them to his chickens first as a precautionary measure. (Or at least, that's the legend. It's probably apocryphal.)
The point is, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved peas. If avocados had even been around when they were president, they would have made pea guacamole. And they would have loved that, too. Pea hold these shoots to be self-evident.
Sanders' campaign estimated the crowd at about 10,000 people, the largest rally by any candidate during the 2016 campaign. Granted, it's not even 2016 yet, but Sanders has continued to draw massive crowds everywhere he has gone (5,000 people in Denver; 300 people in an Iowa town of 240). It's not necessarily a barometer for public support—Hillary Clinton still holds a comfortable lead in national polls—but it does show that his popularity stems from something much deeper than just good name recognition.
Not that much. Between 2003 and 2013, Bush gave 1.5 percent of his income to charity, according to the lists of charitable deductions in the tax returns. That's about half the national average of 3 percent, according to Charity Navigator.
In a letter posted on his website, Bush says he has given $739,000 to charity between 2007 and 2014, which indicates that he increased his annual rate of giving substantially last year. (His 2014 tax return will be released in the fall, according to his campaign.) "Since I left the governor's office I have tried to give back—and even though all of us strive to do more—I'm proud of what Columba and I have contributed," he wrote.
Bush's charitable donations as a percentage of his income is substantially less than the 13.8 percent given by Mitt Romney in the year before he launched his last presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave away about $10 million in the years leading up to the 2008 election, with much of that money going to the family's foundation. That was about 10 percent of their income. The Obamas gave 15 percent of their income to charity in 2014. (The Bidens' charitable giving was far lower: 2 percent.)
Bree Newsome was tired of watching the Confederate battle flag fly on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. So on Saturday morning, the 30-year-old African American activist and singer-songwriter from North Carolina put on a harness, climbed 30 feet, and took down the flag herself. She was arrested and charged with defacing a state monument, while the flag was promptly returned to its place atop the pole. But at the end of a week in which the Confederate flag was removed for good from the Alabama statehouse, banned by many retailers, and condemned by politicians in Mississippi and South Carolina, the symbolism of Newsome's ascent was hard to miss. An IndieGoGo account for her bail and legal defense fees raised $113,000 in three days. The internet quickly did its thing:
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam for lethal injections in a 5–4 decision that pitted the five conservative justices against the four liberal ones. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote her own dissent, argued that the use of the drug, which prolongs the execution process and sometimes doesn't work at all, was in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." Then she went a step further, comparing the drug to a more notorious form of punishment—the burning of heretics at the stake:
[T]he Court today turns aside petitioners’ plea that they at least be allowed a stay of execution while they seek to prove midazolam’s inadequacy. The Court achieves this result in two ways: first, by deferring to the District Court’s decision to credit the scientifically unsupported and implausible testimony of a single expert witness; and second, by faulting petitioners for failing to satisfy the wholly novel requirement of proving the availability of an alternative means for their own executions. On both counts the Court errs. As a result, it leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.
Later in her dissent, Sotomayor added a few more comparisons for good measure. "Under the Court's new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a separate dissent, went a step further, arguing that the death penalty itself might be unconstitutional.
Antonin Scalia didn't mince words in his dissenting opinion on Friday's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. The conservative justice called his colleague Anthony Kennedy's opinion for the majority "as pretentious as its content is egotistic," adding that it diminished "this Court's reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis." Over the last three decades, he has peppered his dissents (for the most part) with put-downs of his colleagues, plaintiffs, or whatever it was he was angry about on the day of writing. And now, with Mother Jones' handy Scalia Insult Generator™, you can create your own!
Unless you're former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, that is. Earlier this week, even before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, the GOP presidential candidate called on conservative Christians to engage in a massive "Biblical disobedience" campaign against the "false god of judicial supremacy," comparing the widely expected majority decision in the gay marriage case to the Dred Scott case that upheld the Fugitive Slave Act:
For a lot of believers, the question comes, do we have civil disobedience, or do we have Biblical disobedience? For many of us, civil disobedience—when we believe that the civil government has acted outside of nature, and nature's god, outside of the bounds of the law, outside of the bounds of the Constitution—we believe that it's the right and the moral thing to do. Now I understand that's a very controversial thing to say. But Todd, what if no one had acted in disobedience to the Dred Scott decision of 1857? What if the entire country had capitulated to judicial tyranny and we just said that because the Supreme Court said in 1857 said that a black person wasn’t fully human—suppose we had accepted that, suppose Abraham Lincoln, our president, had accepted that, would that have been the right course of action? And I don't know of anyone, I mean seriously, I don't know of anyone who believes that the Supreme Court made the right decision in Dred Scott.
In the war for marriage equality, Huckabee is the lonely Japanese soldier dutifully defending his island bunker years after the last shots were fired. He just doesn't know it yet.
The Supreme Court's Thursday ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that upheld a core tenet of the Affordable Care Act is good news for the millions of Americans whose health insurance was on the line. But it's also, in a strange way, good news for a completely different group: the Republican politicians who have all but called for Obamacare to be shot into space on a rocket.
Had the court gone the other way, gutting federal subsidies while leaving the shell of the law on the books, congressional Republicans, as well as GOP governors such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, would have been put in the uncomfortable position they've managed to avoid since Obamacare was signed into law—having to fix it. The Associated Press outlined Walker's dilemma neatly on Wednesday:
About 183,000 people in Wisconsin purchase their insurance through the exchange and nine out of 10 of them are receiving a federal subsidy, according to an analysis of state data by Wisconsin Children and Families. The average tax credit they receive is $315 a month.
Health care advocates who have been critical of Walker for not taking federal money to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage have also called on the Republican second-term governor to prepare for the subsidies to be taken away.
And many of those Wisconsonites enrolled in the federal exchange are there because Walker put them there. As Bloomberg's Joshua Green noted in a prescient piece in March, Walker booted 83,000 people from the state's Medicaid program and put them on the federal exchange instead. That's not the kind of crisis you want to be dealing with in the middle of a presidential campaign—or ever.
Conservatives would have been thrilled with a ruling in their favor on Thursday. But Roberts' decision spares Walker and his colleagues from what would have come next, and frees them to continue lobbing rhetorical bombs at the law they're now stuck with. As previous generations of Washington Republicans can advise, it's much easier to go to war if you don't need a plan for how to end it.
Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal launched his presidential campaign on Wednesday by releasing a video—a very strange video. In it, he and his wife, Supriya, break the news to their three kids that he'll be spending much of the next six months (at least) in Iowa. What makes it so unusual is that it appears to have been filmed with a camera hidden in a tree. Jindal himself is partially obscured by a large branch. His kids don't sound particularly excited about their father's presidential bid. Maybe they've seen the polls.
I had to tell a few people first. But I want you to be next. I’m running for President of the United States of America. Join me: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/announcement/
Update: Sen. Thad Cochran, the state's senior senator, has joined his colleague in appealing to the state legislature to change the Mississippi flag. "it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing its flag," he said in a statement. The original story is below:
When Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was asked on Sunday about removing the Confederate cross from his state's flag, he demurred. That decision "should be up to the Mississippi legislature and the people of the state," he argued. But 48 hours later, he has changed his mind. On Wednesday, he released a statement calling for the current incarnation of the flag to be "put in the museum" and replaced with something else:
After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians. As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.
In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul said he had no personal objection to eating meat sacrificed to idols. But he went on to say that "if food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat." The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissention rather than unity.
This is an issue to be decided by the legislature and other state government officials and not dictated by Washington. If I can be part of a process to achieve consensus within our state, I would welcome the opportunity to participate.
Wicker joins the chancellor of the University of Mississippi, the nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour, and the state's Republican speaker of the House among other prominent Mississippians who have called for the Confederate symbol to go after the murder of nine African American parishioners at a church last week in Charleston, South Carolina.
Science was never supposed to be an issue for Bobby Jindal. The Louisiana governor rose through the ranks of the Republican party on the strength of his reputation as a Rhodes Scholar whiz kid, a former Brown pre-med with an eye for the intricacies of health policy. But since taking office, he has been dogged by accusations that he's playing politics with science education. In 2008, Jindal supported a law that makes it easier for biology teachers to "teach the controversy" on the theory of evolution. His stance on the issue has earned him unfavorable attention outside the state. In 2012, when he was briefly floated as a potential vice presidential candidate, Slate dubbed it "Bobby Jindal's science problem."
The image of Jindal as an anti-science hypocrite is largely the product of one man—Zack Kopplin, a 21-year-old history major at Rice University. Kopplin has spent much of the last five years campaigning against Jindal's approach to the teaching of evolution, which Kopplin considers a backdoor invitation to teach creationism. He has testified before the state legislature and has made appearances on Hardball, NPR, and Real Time With Bill Maher (alongside Bernie Sanders). Here he is with Bill Moyers:
Kopplin is Bobby Jindal's biggest troll. He's also the son of a Jindal family friend.
The relationship dates back to the mid-90s. Kopplin's father, Andy Kopplin, is currently the deputy mayor of New Orleans, serving under Democrat Mitch Landrieu. But it was in an earlier job, as chief of staff to former Louisiana Republican Gov. Murphy Foster, that the elder Kopplin became friends with Jindal. In 1996, Foster hired a 24-year-old Jindal to run the state's Department of Health and Hospitals—Jindal's first full-time job in government. "He had two protegés: Gov. Jindal and my father," the younger Kopplin says. "At the time they got along pretty well. My mom now swears that she never really liked Jindal, but they went out to dinner pretty regularly." When Jindal first ran for governor in 2003 (a race he lost in a runoff to Democrat Kathleen Blanco), Kopplin remembers trying to persuade his classmates to support the Republican candidate, although none of them were old enough to vote.
The turning point for Kopplin came in 2008, when the state legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which purported to "help students understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories." But the subtext seemed clear. The bill, which Jindal signed into law, opened a potential backdoor to the teaching of intelligent design by allowing teachers to introduce supplementary materials that hadn't been approved by the state's Department of Education. The law was written by a social conservative organization called the Louisiana Family Forum, in consultation with the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank. The Democratic state senator who introduced the bill explained at the time that its supporters believed that "scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory." Kopplin decided to devote his senior year of high school in Baton Rouge to fighting the new law. He started a petition and got 75 Nobel laureates to sign it. Even Jindal's college genetics teacher was on board.
Kopplin got 75 Nobel laureates to sign a petition opposing Louisiana's science education law. Even Jindal's college genetics teacher was on board.
Jindal, who studied biology at Brown and was considering Harvard Medical School before attending Oxford, has left a bit of a paper trail as to where he really stands. In 1995, while still a student in England, he published an essay in a small Catholic journal, This Rock, attacking atheism. He asserted that there was "much controversy over the fossil evidence for evolution," and he put himself squarely in the camp of intelligent design. "No evolutionary biologist has produced or ever will produce a conclusion with any relevance to the necessity of God," he argued. "At best he can push the location of the supernatural assumption from the origin of life to the origin of matter, energy, and order."
But Kopplin, who attended the same magnet school in Baton Rouge as Jindal's two kids currently do, suspects the governor's support for the law is purely political. "I mean, who knows? I could be totally wrong, and maybe Jindal believes this with his whole heart," Kopplin says. "Which is more why I go back to what his kids are learning. I had their seventh-grade biology teacher at [University Laboratory School] where I went for middle school, and I know she doesn't just teach evolution—she's absolutely obsessive about it. If Jindal actually was a creationist, I think he'd have a much bigger problem with his kids being taught what evolution is."
Case in point: Last September, Jindal told reporters that he wanted his kids to study evolution in school, but he added that he was "not an evolutionary biologist" and emphasized that he thought the decision on what to teach should be up to individual school districts.
Since the initial campaign against the Louisiana Science Education Act, Kopplin has continued to beat the drum on what he views as the erosion of public schools. He has broadened his focus to include the governor's voucher program, which diverts state money to religious schools that question evolution and openly discriminate against students who violate their moral code. (At one such institution, students can be expelled if a family member promotes the "homosexual lifestyle.") And Kopplin has expanded his push to Texas, where he discovered that students at the state's biggest charter school network were being taught that the "sketchy" fossil record undermines the theory of evolution.
Although he still has three credit hours left at Rice, he has continued to keep the pressure on Jindal. He has published six pieces at Slate in just the last seven months, four of which focused on the former family friend. And he expects to continue churning out stories as the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up. Jindal "does bring out my best writing," Kopplin says, "because I sort of know the environment he's around pretty well—I know his kids' biology teachers!"
Update (6/24/2015): Webb has weighed in on his Facebook page, writing that "[t]his is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War." He calls for "mutual respect" and says the flag shouldn't be used "as a political symbol that divides us," but does not take any clear stance on the flag publicly displayed on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. Read the original story below:
By now, every 2016 presidential contender from both parties—those announced, those undeclared—has weighed in on the Confederate flag controversy that erupted after last week's mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, except for one: Democrat Jim Webb.
A former senator from Virginia, Webb has defended the Confederate Army and the rebel flag in the past. But on Monday, when contacted by the Washington Times, he declined to comment on the ongoing controversy over whether the Confederate banner should continue to fly on the grounds of the state Capitol in South Carolina. On Tuesday, Webb's spokesman, Craig Crawford, told Mother Jones in an email that Webb "just has not been on the habit of commenting on news of the day. He's not an official candidate." Webb has previously said he plans to make an official announcement on running for president by the end of June.
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.
On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.
How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.
For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."
But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."
The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.
Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.
Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)
But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:
Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.
Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.
On Sunday, just days after a gunman killed nine African American parishioners at a Charleston church, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued on Meet the Press that presidential candidates should not need to answer questions about the Confederate battle flag:
For those of us running for president, everyone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.
Where could anyone have gotten the impression that the flag is a presidential campaign issue?
Maybe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did everything short of actually firing on Fort Sumter in an effort to court white South Carolina voters during his 2008 presidential campaign:
You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.
Evidently, Huckabee's pandering on the flag issue was deemed a successful strategy. In that same campaign, the New York Timesnoted, an independent group ran radio ads attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for criticizing the Confederate flag, and boasted that "Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage."
The Guardian's Paul Lewis wrote a great profile of Sen. Bernie Sanders' years as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, including excerpts from Sanders' correspondence with foreign heads of state, but let's cut right to the chase: Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem for Bernie Sanders in 1986.
Pro-flag demonstrators at the South Carolina Capitol after the flag was removed from the dome in 2000.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will almost certainly order flags across the state to be flown at half-mast this week in honor of the black parishioners murdered Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But one flag will continue to fly as it always has—the Confederate flag in front of the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia. In a photo posted by the New York Times, the alleged gunman, Dylann Storm Roof, is seen posing in front of a car with a license plate bearing several iterations of the flag. (In an odd twist, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas could refuse to offer specialty Confederate flag license plates that had been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.)
The flag, a symbol of the struggle by a white minority engaged in an armed insurrection to preserve its right to violently enslave the black majority, has long been a divisive issue in the state, and criticism of its continued display flared up again after Wednesday's shooting. It was removed from the Capitol dome after massive protests in 2000, and as part of a compromise, relocated to the Confederate memorial. But the flag's origins in Columbia are a remnant of segregation, not the Civil War—it was first flown over the Capitol in 1962 in response to the civil rights push from Washington.
Despite the most recent incident of racial violence, don't expect the flag to come down any time soon. When Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was asked about it at a debate during her 2014 re-election campaign, she argued that it was a non-issue:
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag...We really kinda fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African American US senator. That sent a huge message.
Given that less than 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOS are black (compared with 28 percent of South Carolinians), they may not be the best focus group.
Ben Carson's presidential campaign is in chaos. His deputy campaign manager quit to return to his farm. His general counsel just went on a safari. His campaign chairman left almost as soon as Carson announced his candidacy to work on a pro-Carson super-PAC—one of three outside outfits supporting Carson's run, while at the same time competing with each other for money and volunteers. Carson, meanwhile, is continuing to travel the country giving paid speeches—an unusual move for a candidate.
He's also leading the entire Republican field, according to the most recent poll of the race from Monmouth:
It's early—the first meaningful votes won't be cast until January. But Carson's strategy of not really campaigning hasn't hurt him yet. He's actually jumped four points in the polls since his non-campaign began.
The Iowa Straw Poll, a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Iowa that advertised itself as a pivotal proving ground for the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, died on Friday. It was 36.
The governing board for the Republican Party of Iowa voted unanimously Friday to cancel the straw poll, a milestone on the path to the White House that had passed the strategic tipping point. It was no longer a political risk for presidential campaigns to walk away from the straw poll, and too many of the 2016 contenders had opted to skip it for it to survive.
It was a brilliant scheme while it lasted—at least for the state party. Candidates would shell out tens of thousands of dollars to cover the cost of admission for supporters (or people who claimed to be supporters). They'd even bus them in from distant corners of the state in the hopes that the free ticket, transportation, and food would buy them loyalty in the voting booth. If it happened on Election Day, it'd be a scandal. (This is a state that spent $250,000 to prevent people from voting.) But in August in Iowa, it was just folksy.
The straw poll was not a good predictor of who would win the GOP primary, though. Only one victor (Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1999) ever went on to win the party's nomination. Maybe that's why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, two of the GOP's leading candidates, decided not to participate. (Even Mike Huckabee, whose strong straw poll performance in 2007 presaged his victory in the caucuses, said he wouldn't spend resources to compete at the event.) The straw poll was a test, and the only way to pass was to recognize that you didn't have to take it.
But it was also a victim of its own success. Now conservatives don't have to wait until the straw poll to see their favorite candidates in one place, and interest groups within the party are getting into the business themselves. Weekend cattle calls are the new normal, whether it's a meet-and-greet with the Koch donor network, ribs at Sen. Joni Ernst's motorcycle barbecue, an appearance to Erick Erickson's RedState Gathering, or even a trip to Disney World.
John Doar (right) escorts James Meredith to his first class as the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962.
Few people in the federal government did as much for the civil rights movement as John Doar. As a lawyer in the Department of Justice, he rode through the South with the Freedom Riders in 1961, investigated the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964, and at one point in Jackson, Mississippi, put himself between police and demonstrators to defuse a violent situation using only his reputation. As the New York Times recounted in his obituary last year:
"My name is John Doar—D-O-A-R," he shouted to the crowd. "I'm from the Justice Department, and anybody here knows what I stand for is right." That qualified as a full-length speech from the laconic Mr. Doar. At his continued urging, the crowd slowly melted away.
The FBI's files on Doar, which was released to Mother Jones this week under the Freedom of Information Act, included a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of how J. Edgar Hoover's FBI viewed this civil rights crusader. When he was promoted to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for instance, agents noted that Doar had been "straightened out" after complaining about the bureau's slow response to civil rights violations in the Deep South:
His file also contained an interview with a former colleague of Doar's which revealed a persistent character flaw—he cared way too much about civil rights and prioritized such cases over other issues:
All was not forgiven, despite what the memo to Hoover suggested. In 1967, after Doar had resigned from the Civil Rights Division and taken a new job in Brooklyn, an agent proposed using the former adversary as a liaison in handling racial unrest in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Hoover and his deputy, Clyde Tolson, gave the proposal an emphatic rejection:
UZO ADUBA KNEWOrange Is the New Black would be a hit when strangers started calling her "Crazy Eyes." That's the nickname of her character in the Netflix prison drama, which starts its third season June 12 and has been renewed for a fourth. The 34-year-old actress was raised in Medfield, Massachusetts, where her parents settled in the wake of Nigeria's civil war. After training as a classical vocalist in college, Aduba landed roles in Coram Boy on Broadway and in a New York City Godspell revival. In 2012, she auditioned for what she believed was a bit part in Weeds creator Jenji Kohan's latest series; it culminated, last year, in an Emmy win for her portrayal of Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren, the enigmatic, eyeball-popping inmate who writes bad poetry to express her (unrequited) love for main character Piper, and even responds to one rejection by peeing on the floor of Piper's sleeping area. More recently, Aduba scored roles in the musical movie Pearly Gates and the upcoming period film Showing Roots, in which two women try to unite their small town around showings of the Roots miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 slavery epic.
Mother Jones: Did you ever imagine, when you signed up for a two-episode gig as a character called Crazy Eyes, that you'd one day be talking to a reporter about season four?
Uzo Aduba: Not at all. All I wanted was to make it through—I was told two episodes, maybe a third. My only goals were to do good work and not get fired.
MJ: At what point did you know the show would be a success?
UA: I was up in Utah in the mountains, and I had no phone service. I was like, "Wow, I'm getting a lot of Twitter followers—that tweet I gave yesterday must have been really sassy." When I came down from the mountain I realized, meeting people on the street, that people watch our show and they're really enjoying it.
"I don't think Netflix goes to prisons. But we have former inmates who have said that they watch the show."
MJ: So strangers call you Crazy Eyes?
UA: Not as much as they did initially. I hadn't worked on TV before, but now, because people have seen my face in a different way more, they're like, "Your name is Uzo, right?"
MJ: Do you hear from women who have been in prison or are currently doing time?
UA: I don't think Netflix goes to prisons. [Laughs.] But we have former inmates who have said that they watch the show. I have been so impressed when they say how much is spot-on—men and women.
MJ: How has working on Orange Is the New Black changed your view of prison life?
UA: When I read the second script, I remember physically stopping and realizing, "Wow, we are telling human stories. This is someone's mother, this is a daughter, this is a neighbor, this is a friend." When it stopped being about their crime or their number or their jumpsuit, I could see them fully as people.
UA: I identify parts of myself in Suzanne—as foreign as she is to me. I think that's why people are drawn to the show. When you start to see that Jenji is telling the story of people rather than "criminals," you start to realize, "Oh, I am that person." It's a minimum-security prison. A lot of these people, it was only a small choice that led to them being in this world, and I think that makes it highly relatable.
"When I read the second script, I remember physically stopping and realizing, 'Wow, we are telling human stories. This is someone's mother, this is a daughter, this is a neighbor, this is a friend.'"
MJ: Suzanne is childlike but also kind of intimidating. How do you get to that place?
UA: I did a lot of walking to invite her in—and to put her down. With Suzanne, all the toys need to come out, like a treasure chest, you know. You're not just looking for the one toy on top of the chest, because that innocence, that purity children have—there is no agenda or positioning that goes into their activities. They just do. All of the toys need to come out, and we'll think about cleaning it up afterward.
MJ: Where would you walk?
UA: I lived so close to where we shot that I would walk there and have a meditation to get my mind open and give myself permission to make bad choices. She's such a freeing character, so open and unrestricted. I feel irresponsible if I don't try everything with her. I give myself permission to fall, like a baby trying to learn to walk.
MJ: Did you always want to be in showbiz?
UA: I thought I was going to become a lawyer—that's the more traditional immigrant path. It was through the encouragement of my mom, who exposed me to the arts—and my teacher during my junior year of high school changed my life. She was my drama teacher and also my creative-writing teacher. I was going to apply to study international relations, and she told me that I should go to art school instead. I'd never even thought of that.
MJ: What did your mom expose you to?
UA: She made me get up with her every Sunday morning to sing in our church. I liked to sing, but I didn't know I was decent. I'm one of five, and she never made any of my siblings be in the choir. I was always so irritated, because it was like a half hour earlier than service. Mr. Hersee, my sixth-grade music teacher, had me sing in a recital that year. It wasn't until that recital, when I was singing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," that I was like, "I think I can sing!" I remember having that thought because there was applause and everybody stood up.
MJ: How did being a child of immigrants affect your upbringing?
UA: You can't live in a town like Medfield and not be keenly aware that your name doesn't sound anything like anybody else's. And even more to the point, you look like absolutely no one else there. It's a very homogeneous community—a beautiful community—but I was very much aware that this was not an immigrant hub. At my high school graduation, my whole family came. Up until early adolescence, everybody wants to fit in. But by then, I wanted everybody to come dressed like where I'm from, in traditional clothes. It was amazing, all these beautiful colors and fabulous traditional dress. Everybody felt so proud to be able to show up at an event in Medfield and know that their daughter, their niece, was proud to have them there as they are.
"African stories are missing. First-generation stories. Female-driven stories. I would love to see my own story, because I know I'm not alone in being where I'm from."
MJ: So what's your dream project?
UA: I want to tell the stories of the missing—the people we don't see in our daily narratives, whose voices aren't heard. In terms of biopics, I'm drawn to the Nina Simones of the world, the Leontyne Prices, the Marian Andersons. African stories are missing. First-generation stories. Female-driven stories. I would love to see my own story, because I know I'm not alone in being where I'm from.
MJ: Your latest film involves the Roots miniseries. When did you first see it?
UA: I watched it after I read the book because I was so fascinated—and my mom was so impacted when it came out because she had never seen that story before. When I watched it again for Showing Roots, I was like, "I can't even believe, at a time so close to when the Civil Rights Act was passed, something like this was made with such honesty." The book is phenomenal. It's an amazing story.
MJ: You took a selfie with Hillary Clinton at this year's EMILY's List gala in Washington, DC. Are you ready for Hillary?
UA: I was born ready. [Laughs.] She's a remarkable candidate. I was giving a speech, and you're looking out and there's Hillary Clinton, and she wasn't just listening and nodding at the right moment, but really listening. When we were able to chat behind the scenes, I was like, "Wow, what an incredibly gracious, down-to-earth, thoughtful woman."
MJ: Does she watch Orange Is the New Black?
UA: I didn't ask. We weren't really in that sort of world.
MJ: With Pearly Gates under your belt, can we expect more singing roles from you?
UA: It's in me. I don't think I could even stop it if I wanted to. I never felt like I wanted to only be an actor or a writer or a singer. I just like to make things. I want to tell honest stories, good stories, whether through music or pen or through words or actions. That's all I want to do.
Lincoln Chafee kicked off his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday in Virginia by promising to fight climate change, curb extra-judicial assassinations, and switch the United States to the metric system.
The Rhode Islander, who served in the Senate as a Republican before joining the Democratic party after being elected governor, unveiled his left-leaning, if idiosyncratic, agenda in a wide-ranging address at George Mason University. His continued opposition to the Iraq War, which he voted against authorizing as a senator, could put him in conflict with the party's front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a senator, Clinton was an early supporter of the invasion, though she has since called it a mistake.
National defense was just one area in which Chafee advised heeding the wisdom of the international community. (He likewise proposed ending capital punishment entirely, and praised Nebraska for its recent ban.)
But then Chafee went a few feet—er, meters—further:
Earlier I said, let's be bold. Here's a bold embrace of internationalism: Let's join the rest of the world and go metric. I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process. Believe me, it is easy. It doesn't take long before 34 degrees is hot. Only Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States aren't metric, and it it'll help our economy!
Finally, a presidential candidate with a foolproof plan to bring down rising temperatures.
This wasn't the way Bernie Sanders expected to conclude the first week of his presidential campaign—comparing a 1972 essay he wrote for the Vermont Freeman to E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. But the article, first reported in Mother Jones, quickly caught fire because of its description of a woman who "fantasizes being raped," and by the weekend, Sanders had taken steps to renounce it.
"This is a piece of fiction that I wrote in 1972, I think," the Vermont Senator said, appearing on Meet the Press. "That was 43 years ago. It was very poorly written and if you read it, what it was dealing with was gender stereotypes, why some men like to oppress women, why other women like to be submissive, you know, something like Fifty Shades of Grey."
But if the 1972 essay ruined his media tour, it didn't do anything to suppress the enthusiasm of the progressive activists Sanders aims to make his base. Sanders spent his first week of the campaign speaking to overflow crowds across the Midwest (3,000 people in Minneapolis) and New Hampshire. And, evidently, he's turned some heads. Here's the New York Times:
DES MOINES — A mere 240 people live in the rural northeast Iowa town of Kensett, so when more than 300 crowded into the community center on Saturday night to hear Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, many driving 50 miles, the cellphones of Democratic leaders statewide began to buzz.
Kurt Meyer, the county party chairman who organized the event, sent a text message to Troy Price, the Iowa political director for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Price called back immediately.
"Objects in your rearview mirror are closer than they appear," Mr. Meyer said he had told Mr. Price about Mr. Sanders. "Mrs. Clinton had better get out here."
Clinton's strategy, to this point, has been to act as if her other prospective Democratic primary opponents don't exist. Sanders might have just changed that calculus.
The wait is over. Martin O'Malley is running for president. The former Maryland governor formally kicked off his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday in Baltimore, the city he served as mayor for six years. O'Malley, who has been publicly weighing a bid for years, is aiming to present himself as a solidly progressive alternative to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. But it's going to be an uphill slog—in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, he received just 1 percent—56 points behind Clinton, and 14 points behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was an independent until he entered the 2016 Democratic contest.
Here are five things you should read about O'Malley right now:
He's the "best manager in government today," according to a 2013 profile by Haley Sweetland Edwards at the Washington Monthly:
The truth is, what makes O'Malley stand out is not his experience, his gravitas, nor his familiarity to voters (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden crush him in those regards). Nor is it exactly his policies or speeches (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, both rumored presidential aspirants, have cultivated similar CVs). Nor is it that he plays in a band. Nor is it even the Atlantic's breathless claim last year that he has "the best abs" in politics. (Beneath a photo of the fit governor participating in the Maryland Special Olympics' annual Polar Bear Plunge, the author gushed, "What are they putting in the water in Maryland?") Instead, what makes O'Malley unique as a politician is precisely the skill that was on display in that windowless conference room in downtown Annapolis: he is arguably the best manager working in government today.
That may not seem like a very flashy title—at first blush, "Best Manager" sounds more like a booby prize than a claim a politician might ride to the White House. But in an era where the very idea of government is under assault, a politician’s capacity to deliver on his or her promises, to actually make the bureaucracy work, is an underappreciated skill.
He pursued a tough-on-crime policing strategy as mayor of Baltimore, according to a recent Washington Post article:
It was as a crime-busting mayor some 15 years ago that O'Malley first gained national attention. Although he is positioning himself as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, O'Malley also touts a police crackdown during his time as mayor that led to a stark reduction in drug violence and homicides as one of his major achievements.
Yet some civic leaders and community activists in Baltimore portray O'Malley’s policing policies in troubling terms. The say the "zero-tolerance" approach mistreated young black men even as it helped dramatically reduce crime, fueling a deep mistrust of law enforcement that flared anew last week when [Freddie] Gray died after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody.
He's obsessed with the War of 1812 and discussed said obsession in an interview with the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs last September, after dressing up in an 1812-vintage uniform and mounting a horse:
Win, lose, or draw, O'Malley said he is enthusiastic about the bicentennial and has read up on past commemorations to prepare. He recalled for The Daily Beast a 100-year-old Baltimore Sun editorial about the centennial in 1914 and searched excitedly through his iPad for it. PBS will broadcast the event nationwide on Saturday night, and it will feature what is planned to be the largest ever mass singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and an outdoor concert in Baltimore that will include a rock opera about the War of 1812, and O'Malley's own band, which he referred to simply as "a small little warm-up band of Irish extraction."
Though he was the model for the character of Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti on the HBO series The Wire, he is not a huge fan of the show or its creator, David Simon, who described an awkward encounter with the governor last year on an Acela train:
This fellow was at the four-top table immediately behind me. I clocked him as we left New York, but as he is a busy man, and as most of our previous encounters have been a little edgy, I told myself to let well enough alone. I answered a few more emails, looked at some casting tapes on the laptop, checked the headlines. And still, with all of that done, we were only just south of Philadelphia.
I texted my son: "On the southbound Acela. Marty O'Malley sitting just behind me," then joking, "Do I set it off?"
A moment later, a 20-year-old diplomatic prodigy fired back a reply: "Buy him a beer."
...I stood up, noticed that Mr. O'Malley was sipping a Corona, and I walked to the cafe car to get another just like it. I came back, put it on the table next to its mate, and said, simply, "You’ve had a tough week." My reference, of course, was to the governor's dustup with the White House over the housing of juvenile immigrants in Maryland, which became something of a spitting contest by midweek.
Mr. O'Malley smiled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat to inform my son that the whole of the State Department could do no better than he. Several minutes later, the governor of my state called me out and smacked the seat next to him.
"Come on, Dave," he said, "we're getting to be old men at this point. Sit, talk."
Writing for the Atlantic in December, Molly Ball dubbed O'Malley, "the most ignored candidate of 2016."Another takeaway from the piece, which chronicled his trip to an Annapolis homeless-prevention center that provides job training, might be that he tries too hard:
"I love kale," O'Malley told the chef, Linda Vogler, a middle-aged woman with blond bangs peeking out from a paper toque [who was teaching a cooking class]. "Kale's the new superfood!"
"It looks like birdseed," she replied, hurrying on with the lesson. As the class counted off the seconds it took to boil a tomato, O'Malley changed their "One Mississippi" chant to "One Maryland! Two Maryland!"
When Bernie Sanders was a student activist at University of Chicago in the 1960s, he was a leader of the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and helped to organize a protest of the school's racist housing policies. But the radical action he mounted that received nationwide attention was of a different nature: In 1963, as a junior, he waged a crusade for sexual freedom, assailing the school's leaders for forcing their puritan views on undergraduates—and ruining their students' sex lives.
In doing so, Sanders made national news. This crusade was emblematic of the way Sanders conducted himself in Hyde Park and throughout his political career—firm in his beliefs, fiery in his rhetoric, and unafraid of confrontation.
Texas independence—or paranoia—strikes again. In recent years, some Lone Star officials, including former Gov. Rick Perry, have flirted with secession. Last month the new Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, asked the state national guard to monitor a US military exercise that some residents fear is cover for a federal takeover of the state that will use Walmarts as staging areas. And now the state is on the verge of seizing the gold owned by the state that is stored in New York City and building a massive bunker to hoard this booty.
AUSTIN — Texas could get its own version of Fort Knox, the impenetrable depository for gold bullion, if the Legislature gets its way.
Under House Bill 483, approved unanimously on Tuesday by the state Senate, Comptroller Glenn Hegar would be authorized to establish and administer the state's first bullion depository at a site not yet determined.
No other state has its own state bullion depository, officials said.
The state government has about $1 billion in gold bullion stored outside the state, mostly in the basement of the Federal Reserve building in Manhattan. The gold has been there for years—because it's so annoying to move, it's easier to keep everyone's gold in the same place, and the financial center of the world is the most obvious place. When bullion changes hands, it's mostly on paper. So why does Texas now need to grab all its gold? Is it just because Texans don't trust New Yorkers? Is it really that simple?
"New York will hate this," [state sen. Lois] Kolkhorst said of the bill that now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law. "To me, that and the fact that it will save Texas money makes it a golden idea."
The cost-cutting bit refers to the storage fees Texas has to pay to keep its gold offsite, although Texas would still have to shell out money for upkeep and security if it went the DIY route. Incidentally, Perry supported the Texas Bullion Depository when it was first proposed in 2013, telling Glenn Beck, "If we own it, I will suggest to you that that's not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not."
But building a giant vault to house all the state's gold will be the easy part. The tough task? Safely and securely moving 57,000 pounds of gold from Gotham to Texas. Perhaps we now know the plot for the eighth Fast and Furious movie.
Bernie Sanders in 1981, a few months after being sworn in as mayor of Burlington, Vermont
Sometime in the late 1970s, after he'd had a kid, divorced his college sweetheart, lost four elections for statewide offices, and been evicted from his home on Maple Street in Burlington, Vermont, Bernie Sanders moved in with a friend named Richard Sugarman. Sanders, a restless political activist and armchair psychologist with a penchant for arguing his theories late into the night, found a sounding board in the young scholar, who taught philosophy at the nearby University of Vermont. At the time, Sanders was struggling to square his revolutionary zeal with his overwhelming rejection at the polls—and this was reflected in a regular ritual. Many mornings, Sanders would greet his roommate with a simple statement: "We're not crazy."
"I'd say, 'Bernard, maybe the first thing you should say is "Good morning" or something,'" Sugarman recalls. "But he'd say, 'We're. Not. Crazy.'"
Sanders eventually got a place of his own, found his way, and in 1981 was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont's largest city—the start of an improbable political career that led him to Congress, and soon, he hopes, the White House. On Tuesday, after more than three decades as a self-described independent socialist, the septuagenarian senator launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in the Vermont city where this long, strange trip began. But it was during Sanders' first turbulent decade in Vermont that he discovered it wasn't enough to hold lofty ideas and wait for the world to fall in line; in the Green Mountains, he learned how to be a politician.
Harry Moskoff wouldn't immediately strike you as the guy to discover the true location of the Ark of the Covenant, the chest that supposedly once held the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. He was born in Canada, studied jazz at Berklee College of Music, worked in IT, and started a company that specialized in copyright infringement claims when he moved to Tel Aviv 10 years ago. But in his free time, the ordained rabbi has dabbled in biblical archeology, poring over ancient texts and contemporary works, in search of any unturned stone that might help him track down the ark.
"I came up with a theory via Maimonides as to where the ark is located, which I later discussed with rabbis and archeologists in Israel," he told the Times of Israel in 2013. "It was a Jewish Da Vinci Code type project." His grand theory? It's been in Jerusalem all this time, buried underneath the courtyard of the Temple of Solomon. To promote his discovery, in 2013 he made a sci-fi movie called TheA.R.K. Report.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)—known as something of an active volcano ever since he said in a 2010 floor speech that the Republican health care plan was to "die quickly"—is considering running for Senate next year. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already settled on a candidate, Rep. Patrick Murphy, but Grayson believes that "our voters will crawl over hot coals to vote for me."
That feeling of invincibility extends to his dealings with reporters. To wit, today's interview with Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:
Good talk w @AlanGrayson: "R u some kind of sh*ttng robot?! U go around sh*tting on people?!" he inquired, loudly
Over the last six years, West Virginia Democrats have seen their grip on state politics slip away in no small part due to their alleged collaboration with President Barack Obama's "War on Coal." The solution: put a coal kingpin on the ballot.
On Monday, Jim Justice, owner of Southern Coal Corp., announced he would run for governor as a Democrat in 2016, to replace the retiring incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Justice, the state's richest citizen with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, is a political novice but a state icon. In 2009, he purchased the Greenbrier, a historic mountain resort that had fallen on hard times, and restored it into a first-class resort. During his gubernatorial campaign kickoff event, Justice drew a parallel between his state's lackluster reputation, and the derelict condition of the White Sulphur Springs retreat. "[Times] were tough at the Greenbrier, too," he said.
In Justice, Democrats have found a walking counterpoint to the war-on-coal attacks. (The attacks are also largely unfounded—under Tomblin the state has rolled back mine safety regulations.) In contrast to, say, frequent Greenbrier guest Don Blankenship, who as CEO of Massey Energy famously re-designed his property so he wouldn't have to use his town's polluted drinking water and is currently awaiting trial on conspiracy to violate mine-safety laws, Justice has always styled himself as a man of the people. A 2011 Washington Post profile began with a surprise sighting of Justice at an Applebee's near his hometown. The richest man in the state, it turned out, was grabbing a late snack after coaching his hometown's high school girls basketball team.
But Southern Coal Corp. isn't without its issues. An NPR investigation last fall found that the company owed nearly $2 million in delinquent fines for federal mine safety violations. (After the report was published, Justice agreed to work out a payment plan.) And he may not have the Democratic field to himself, either; senate minority leader Jeff Kessler (D) filed his pre-candidacy papers in March. No Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring yet.
Is Elizabeth Warren actually just an enigmatic adolescent ghost? Maybe! On Monday, Harry Potter author (and greatest living British person) J.K. Rowling dropped a bombshell in response to a question from a Twitter fan:
Video visitation is the hot new trend in the corrections industry. Companies like Securus and Global Tel*Link, which have made big bucks charging high prices for inmate phone services, are increasingly pitching county jails new systems that will allow inmates to video-chat with friends and family. Using new terminals installed onsite, inmates can communicate with approved users who log in remotely on a special app similar to Skype. For inmates whose loved ones don't live anywhere near their corrections facility, that can be good news.
But as I reported for the magazine in February, those video-conferencing systems sometimes come with a catch—jails that use the systems are often contractually obligated to eliminate free face-to-face visits, leaving family members no choice but to pay a dollar-a-minute for an often unreliable service.
In a press release last week Securus has announced it will no longer require jails to ditch in-person visitation:
"Securus examined our contract language for video visitation and found that in 'a handful' of cases we were writing in language that could be perceived as restricting onsite and/or person-to-person contact at the facilities that we serve," said Richard A. ("Rick") Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Securus Technologies, Inc. "So we are eliminating that language and 100% deferring to the rules that each facility has for video use by inmates."
Translation: Nothing to see here, move along! But while inmates might be getting their face-to-face visitation back, Securus' concession on in-person visits comes even as it's fighting the Federal Communication Commission's efforts to regulate the cost of intrastate prison phone calls (it capped the price of interstate prison phone calls in 2014 at 25 cents per minute). And the corrections technology industry isn't the only group defending the status quo—the executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association told IB Times earlier this month that if the FCC interferes with phone prices (corrections facilities often get a cut of the profits), some jails may just decide to cut off access to phone calls.
Good luck tracking down sermons from Mike Huckabee's two decades as a Baptist preacher. The GOP presidential candidate, who once started a television station out of his church to broadcast his sermons, kept those tapes under wraps during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Among the handful of sermons open to the public is a partial recording of a 1979 sermon in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, at the congregation Huckabee had tended as a pastor a decade earlier when he was a student at Ouachita Baptist University. The sermon, included in the school's special collections, catches a young Huckabee confident in his beliefs and fluid in his rhetoric, riffing from one New Testament passage to the next in critiquing the most "pleasure-mad society that probably has ever been since Rome and Greece, in the days when there was just absolute chaos and debauchery on the streets":
It's a sad thing but it's true in this country: 10,000 people a year are directly killed by alcohol in this country. Ten thousand. But we license liquor. There's one person a year on average killed by a mad dog, just one. But you know what we do? We license liquor, and we shoot the mad dog. That's an insane logic! But it's what's happening, it's because we love pleasure more than anything else. A lot of times we look around our society we see this problem we see pornography and prostitution and child abuse and all the different things that we're all so upset about. You know why they're there? You know why they're in the communities? You say "because the Devil"—they're there because of us.
It was dark days indeed, he argued, when "an x-rated theater can open up down the street from a church." Above all, Huckabee was upset with Monty Python's 1979 movie, Life of Brian. Huckabee was hardly alone in condemning Life of Brian, which follows the story of a Jewish man, Brian, who is mistaken for the Messiah because he was born on the same day as Jesus. The film was banned in Ireland; picketed in New Jersey; denounced by a coalition of Christian and Jewish leaders; and canceled in Columbia, South Carolina after a last-minute intervention from Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond. (On the other hand, the movie does have a score of 96 at Rotten Tomatoes.) Per Huckabee:
There was a time in this country when a movie like The Life of Brian which, I just read—thank God the theaters in Little Rock decided not to show, but it's showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.
But friend, it's happening all over and no one's blinking an eye, and we can talk about how the devil's moved in and the devil's moved in but what's really happened is God's people have moved out and made room for it. We've put up the for sale sign and we've announced a very cheap price for what our lives really are. We've sold our character, we've sold our convictions, we've compromised we've sold out and as a result we've moved out the devil's moved in and he's set up shop. And friend [he's] praying on our own craving for pleasure.
Ben Carson's résumé doesn't read like those of your average presidential aspirant—pediatric neurosurgeon, best-selling author, motivational speaker. And to help plot his long-shot path to the White House, this unlikely candidate has turned to a man with an even more unconventional background: a magic-loving entrepreneur and celebrity lawyer named Terry Giles who made a cameo in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, defended serial killers, and for 14 years chaired the board of a controversial self-help empire created by a mercurial pop psychologist. That is, not the usual political operative.
When Carson formally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday, he gave a shout out to Giles, his campaign chairman. "When I started this endeavor…I asked him to put together the rest of the team in order to be able to do this," Carson said, introducing Giles to the audience. With no more political expertise than the candidate himself, the 66-year-old attorney has spent the last nine months assembling a campaign outfit from scratch, including mining Newt Gingrich's 2012 operation for key hires.
For Giles, putting together a presidential bid is the latest venture in an eclectic career that has included stints as a car dealer, chateau baron, and magic-club owner. "I have adult ADD," he says in an interview. But Giles is no dilettante; as a lawyer, he has been ruthless in defending his clients' interests—a trait that may be particularly useful during what will likely be a combative GOP primary contest.
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.
I met Larry Nichols, the self-described smut king of Arkansas, at a breakfast joint in Conway, not far from the spot where he claims Bill Clinton loyalists once fired on him and a reporter for London's Sunday Telegraph. "You have to understand," he said, looking up from his coffee, "you're in Redneck City." Nichols had declared war on the Clintons in 1988, when Bill was governor, after being canned from his job at a state agency for placing dozens of long-distance phone calls on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras. As he hunched over the table in four layers of winter clothing, Nichols indulged in the caginess that had once seduced a small army of conservative journalists seeking dirt on the Clintons—the lurching, twangy, conspiratorial tones of someone with a secret he wasn't sure how to spill. For a moment, I felt as if I'd taken the wrong exit off I-40 and ended up in 1995.
But Nichols, who did as much as anyone in Arkansas to paint an image of the 42nd president as a womanizing, cocaine-snorting, dirty-dealing, drug-running mafioso, was ready to move on. "There is nothing you're gonna find here," he told me. "Pack your shit and go home. Good God, man—that was 20 years ago."
With Hillary Clinton the odds-on favorite in next year's Democratic presidential primary, all that was past is suddenly new again. The reinvestigation of the Clintons was already well underway by January, when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus boasted to Bloomberg that he had dispatched a team of operatives to Little Rock to investigate the former first lady and secretary of state. "We're not going to be shy about what we are doing," he said. "We're going to be active. We're going to get whatever we have to in order to share with the American people the truth about Hillary and Bill Clinton." Last year, America Rising, an opposition research firm/political action group that works with Republican candidates, placed a full-time researcher in Little Rock, where she pored over newly declassified documents at the Clinton Presidential Library.
But 20 years after the so-called Arkansas Project, the multimillion-dollar campaign financed by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife that turned Whitewater and Troopergate into household names, opposition researchers face a conundrum: Considering that the first expedition for dirt on the Clintons culminated in impeachment proceedings, are there any stones left unturned in Little Rock?
"There is nothing you're gonna find here. Pack your shit and go home. Good God, man—that was 20 years ago."
Few pieces of political turf have been excavated as thoroughly as Arkansas was in the 1990s, when conservatives scoured the Ozarks for evidence of everything from plastic surgery (to fix Bill's supposedly cocaine-ravaged nose) to murder (a list of suspicious deaths, promoted by Nichols, became known as "Arkancides") and, of course, womanizing. In the state capital, the return of the oppo researchers has been met with a sigh. "Bill and Hillary left here in December of 1992 and never came back," said Max Brantley, a longtime political columnist at the Arkansas Times. "Kenneth Starr ran everything through that grand jury. There may be something, but I can't imagine what." Rex Nelson, a former aide to Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, told me there was nothing left to unearth about the Clintons, "unless there's ancient relics buried in the dirt under the Rose Law Firm," where Hillary was once a partner.
In their quest for fresh muck, the diggers have fixated on a new chamber of secrets: archives. With a 40-year record to pore over, oppo researchers and journalists have been gifted an almost unprecedented trove of papers from former Clinton associates, and tens of millions of pages from the couple's years in Arkansas and Washington, DC, some of which have only recently been made public. "Every chief of staff, every top official for any Clinton office dating back 40 years has donated their papers to a university," said Tim Miller, a cofounder of America Rising. "We've gone to other libraries where staffers from the Clinton White House, or Clinton governor's office, have donated papers, or authors have written profiles on the Clintons." (Shortly after I spoke with him, Miller took a job with Jeb Bush's campaign. Throw in material related to Bush, a former governor and kin to two presidents, and next November's race might feature the longest collective paper trail in history.)
Last year, the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet that wears its animus toward the Clintons as a badge of honor, hired an oppo researcher to help dig through special collections at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. It came away with a series of journal excerpts from longtime Hillary confidante Diane Blair in which the first lady was quoted as calling Monica Lewinsky a "narcissistic loony toon." The story made national news. "When those stories hit, we got busy for a week or so," said Geoffrey Stark, the reading room supervisor at the university library's special collections. The quiet basement room, with its oil paintings of homegrown artists and politicians looking on in judgment, filled up with reporters hungry for whatever scraps were left behind.
The Republican intelligence gathering has also spawned Democratic counterintelligence operations. Leaving nothing to chance, Correct the Record, a pro-Hillary group fronted by David Brock, the former right-wing journalist turned Clinton loyalist, dispatched a staffer to Fayetteville to scan the archives. Twenty-one years after he had blown open Troopergate, the bombshell that purported to detail how Bubba's security detail facilitated his sexual liaisons, Brock was returning to Arkansas to put the genie back in the bottle. Correct the Record spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod confirmed that the group has been visiting the archives, but said, "We aren't getting into the specifics of tactics or strategies."
I got a blank stare when I mentioned Whitewater at the farm-to-table café across the street from the former headquarters of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.
Yet even the field marshals of the new invasion recognize that the Clintons have moved on to bigger things. Miller expects the Arkansas cache to be used more as supporting evidence rather than the main indictment. The Whitewater scandal of 2016 won't be set in Arkansas; given Republicans' fixation on the family's international nonprofit, the Clinton Foundation, it might not even be in the United States. "For me, the big difference between 2016 and 2008, from a research standpoint, is that their network of influence has grown exponentially," Miller explained. "When you're talking about crony capitalism and special deals in the '90s, a lot of times the beneficiaries are, like, Arkansas lawyers. Now their influences are the global elites." And what's not in the Clintons' archives may turn out to be just as damaging, as Hillary found out in March, when it was revealed that she had skirted public recordkeeping requirements by conducting all of her State Department business with a private email address.
The Arkansas the Clintons left behind isn't just old news—it hardly exists anymore. One morning in February, using the Whitewater report as my Lonely Planet guide, I spent a few hours walking through a Little Rock neighborhood known as SoMa, searching for remnants of the real estate deals that compelled special investigator Kenneth Starr to set up shop in town. In testimony, the area was described as "a slum district," but it has since flowered into a yuppie paradise. I got a blank stare when I mentioned Whitewater at the farm-to-table café across the street from the former headquarters of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the bank wrapped up in the Clintons' scheme to turn a patch of land on the White River in the Ozarks into a summer resort. The young employee behind the counter seemed to think I was asking about whitewater rafting.
Now, in a salute to history, a subpoena-serving firm occupies the office that the state government once leased from the Clintons' Whitewater banker pal. Next door at the Esse Purse Museum, I'd missed a special exhibit called "Handbags for Hillary," a joint installation with the Clinton Library of pocketbooks given to the first lady (including one made out of socks, in honor of the family cat). The closest I came to scandal was at the Green Corner Store, purveyors of artisanal ice cream that, I was told, is whipped up in the very building "where Bill met Jessica Flowers." (Bill's alleged paramour was in fact named Gennifer.) The soda jerk who poured my small-batch lavenderade hinted that Hillary faces a more immediate challenge from another woman: She's torn between Clinton and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
If the conspiracy-slinging Clinton antagonists are a bit quieter this time around, that's also because—cue the ominous voice-over and shaky-cam footage—many of the loudest ones are now dead. John Brown, a sheriff's deputy who alleged that the Clintons had murdered several Arkansans over a cocaine-trafficking operation, died in prison. Jim Johnson, the segregationist former Arkansas Supreme Court justice who lent a semblance of gravitas to the 1994 conspiracy flick The Clinton Chronicles, committed suicide five years ago. The Reverend Jerry Falwell, who sold 60,000 copies of the film, died in 2007. Parker Dozhier, the trapper and bait shop owner whom Scaife paid to find dirt on the Clintons, is, like his benefactor, dead.
"Kenneth Starr ran everything through that grand jury. There may be something, but I can't imagine what."
Others have gotten out of the game. David Brock broke bad. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the Sunday Telegraph scribe who reported in a gossip- and conspiracy-laden book that Bill liked to dance around in a black dress after doing cocaine with his brother, went back to Europe. "I think Hillary was a good secretary of state," he said in an email, although he stands by his earlier work. (He doesn't recall being shot at with Nichols.) When I reached Larry Patterson, the retired state policeman whose grudge against Bill over a forgotten transfer compelled him to talk to Brock for the Troopergate story, he was curt. "Sir, the Clintons have taught me a lesson," he said. And then he hung up.
Of the original band of Clinton hunters, only Nichols kept up the ruse, doing interviews with fringe right-wing radio hosts, even boasting in 2013 that he had been Bill's personal hit man, which he now says he didn't mean and wouldn't have said if he hadn't been on painkillers.
But something strange has come over him. After six years of watching Barack Hussein Obama cower in the face of Islamists, Nichols believes the family he spent two decades tarring as cold-blooded crooks might just be the only people who can save the country. "I'm not saying I like Hillary, you hear me?" he said, defensively. "I am not saying I like Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'm not saying anything I've said I take back. But God help me, I'm going to have to stand up and tell conservative patriots we have no choice but to give Hillary her shot."
"I know she won't flinch," he continued. "That's a mean sonofabitch woman that can be laying over four people and say"—he paraphrased her now-infamous response to hostile congressional questioning on the deaths of four Americans in Libya—"'What the hell difference did it make?'" He was against Clinton because of Whitewater. Now he's voting for her because of Benghazi.
Last week it was Ted Cruz. On Wednesday it was Rand Paul. And now, meet your newest presidential candidate: former Rhode Island Republican senator turned former Rhode Island Democratic governor Lincoln Chafee! Bet you didn't see that one coming.
Chafee said the launch of his exploratory committee will be made via videos posted on his website, Chafee2016.com.
"Throughout my career, I exercised good judgment on a wide range of high-pressure decisions, decisions that require level-headedness and careful foresight," said Chafee. "Often these decisions came in the face of political adversity. During the next weeks and months I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts about the future of our great country."
Lincoln Chafee, of the Rhode Island Chafees, won't be the next president, although he does enter the Democratic primary with strong name recognition among people who use "summer" as a verb. Chafee's father, great-great grandfather, and great-great uncle all previously served as governor of the state. Lincoln ran for the family seat only after losing his spot in the Senate in 2006 to Sheldon Whitehouse (of the Rhode Island Whitehouses), whose father had roomed with Chafee's father at some college in New Haven before entering the diplomatic corps (like his father before him).
But there is something worth highlighting in his announcement interview:
Chafee said his focus will be on building a strong middle class coupled with environmental stewardship. Chafee, who voted against former President George W. Bush's Iraq War, noted that Mrs. Clinton voted for it. He said he aims to send a clear message that "unilateral military intervention has damaged American interests around the world."
Did you catch that? It's easy to forget now that she's the email-destroying, dictator-courting villain of Benghazi, but there was a time when Hillary Clinton's biggest weakness was something else entirely: Iraq. Clinton's support for that war (and her inability to assuage its opponents) was the fuel for Sen. Barack Obama's rise in the polls in 2007. Eight years later, the issue has been all but erased from the political debate.
Don't bet on Chafee being the man who brings it back.
Jeb Bush isn't the only likely presidential candidate with a brother problem.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general revealed that an agency official had intervened in 2014 to help longtime Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, now the governor of Virginia, obtain EB-5 visas (a steppingstone toward a green card) for employees of his electric-car company. Also named in the report was Tony Rodham, the youngest of Hillary Clinton's two brothers, whose company McAuliffe enlisted to secure those visas.
The inspector general chided the DHS official who oversaw the visa program for pressuring his staff to process the request from Gulf Coast Funds Management, where Rodham serves as CEO, despite an "incomplete business plan, insufficient economic impact analysis, and lack of support for estimating direct employment." Watergate it wasn't—McAuliffe and Rodham had just asked for a favor. But for Hillary Clinton, the news may have evoked a familiar dread.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on charges of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and making false statements. Salomon Melgen, a top Menendez benefactor and Florida opthalmologist, was named as a co-conspirator in the 22-count indictment. The feds allege that Melgen provided Menendez with private airfare and free accommodations at the donor's luxury resort in the Dominican Republic. In exchange, Menendez helped "influence the immigration visa proceedings of Melgen's foreign girlfriends" and pressured the State Department, Customs and Border Patrol, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to protect the doctor's business interests.
Menendez will hold a press conference in Newark on Wednesday night to address the allegations.
The black box recovered from flight Germanwings 9525.
An international airliner falls out of the sky, seemingly for no reason. A cryptic recording from the cockpit voice recorder. The crash of Germanwings flight 9525 on Tuesday has, at least in the early going, left investigators with a lot of puzzling questions. It's also drawn obvious parallels to an earlier incident—the 1999 crash of EgyptAir 990 off the coast of Massachusetts.
That crash, which killed 217 people, was ultimately chalked up to "manipulation of the airplane controls," according to the National Transporation Safety Board. But that euphemism left a lot unsaid. In a masterful piece in the Atlantic in 2001, reporter William Langewiesche sought to piece together the mystery of what actually happened:
I remember first hearing about the accident early in the morning after the airplane went down. It was October 31, 1999, Halloween morning. I was in my office when a fellow pilot, a former flying companion, phoned with the news: It was EgyptAir Flight 990, a giant twin-engine Boeing 767 on the way from New York to Cairo, with 217 people aboard. It had taken off from Kennedy Airport in the middle of the night, climbed to 33,000 feet, and flown normally for half an hour before mysteriously plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean sixty miles south of Nantucket. Rumor had it that the crew had said nothing to air-traffic control, that the flight had simply dropped off the New York radar screens. Soon afterward an outbound Air France flight had swung over the area, and had reported no fires in sight—only a dim and empty ocean far below. It was remotely possible that Flight 990 was still in the air somewhere, diverting toward a safe landing. But sometime around daybreak a Merchant Marine training ship spotted debris floating on the waves—aluminum scraps, cushions and clothing, some human remains. The midshipmen on board gagged from the stench of jet fuel—a planeload of unburned kerosene rising from shattered tanks on the ocean floor, about 250 feet below. By the time rescue ships and helicopters arrived, it was obvious that there would be no survivors. I remember reacting to the news with regret for the dead, followed by a thought for the complexity of the investigation that now lay ahead. This accident had the markings of a tough case. The problem was not so much the scale of the carnage—a terrible consequence of the 767's size—but, rather, the still-sketchy profile of the upset that preceded it, this bewildering fall out of the sky on a calm night, without explanation, during an utterly uncritical phase of the flight.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will visit the US-Mexico border on Friday with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Walker, who is considering a run for president, is aiming to bolster his credentials as a critic of President Obama's immigration policies. A photo wouldn't hurt either.
The Mexican border is now an almost mandatory pit stop for Republican politicians (especially presidential aspirants) looking for the aura of on-the-ground experience on immigration. Sure, talking to a rancher, staring across a river, and visiting a detention facility in McAllen for 30 minutes might not offer much of a big-picture perspective. But that hasn't stopped lawmakers from surveying the region in gunboats, ATVs, helicopters, and jeeps—invariably with camera crews in tow. Here's a roundup:
Former Gov. Rick Perry: As governor of Texas for 14 years, Perry had plenty of opportunities to work on his border game face, and it shows:
Sen. Marco Rubio: The Florida senator may take a hit from some conservatives for his support for a path to citizenship for some undocumented residents, but he demonstrated his ability to look stern while gazing into the great unknown on this visit to El Paso in 2011:
Gov. Bobby Jindal: Last November, Louisiana's chief executive toured the Mexican border by boat and helicopter in the hopes of better understanding the child migrant crisis, which by that point had already subsided. Jindal's entourage didn't come away empty-handed: "In at least three locations, we saw where people were trying to make their way into Texas in an unimpeded manner," boasted one member of Jindal's group.
Sen. Ted Cruz: Texas' junior senator has made more visits to Iowa than he has to South Texas, his state's poorest region (much to locals' chagrin). But last year, as media interest in the child migrant crisis peaked, he took the time to visit the border and tour a migrant processing facility in McAllen with former Fox News personality Glenn Beck:
For now, the rest of the field is playing catch-up. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee visited the border in Texas during his 2008 campaign (joined at the Rio Grande by action star Chuck Norris) but has not been back since. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has not visited the border, although he did propose building a fence along New Hampshire's southern border to keep out people from Massachusetts. Acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson recently visited the Israeli border, where he mistook construction equipment for machine gun fire.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be the only potential candidate who has avoided the border on principle. Although he visited Mexico City on a trade mission in 2014, he balked at extending his trip to the Rio Grande—which is very far from both Mexico City and New Jersey. "This is silliness," he told NJ.com. "If I went down there and looked at it, what steps am I supposed to take exactly? Send the New Jersey National Guard there?"
It's not just potential Republican candidates getting in on the action. In recent years, the Rio Grande has been a frequent destination for DC's finest. In 2013, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who is not running for president—watched law enforcement apprehend a woman who had scaled the 18-foot border fence in Nogales. That same year, while aboard a speed boat with two Republican colleagues, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) found a body floating in the Rio Grande. ("It was a vivid reminder that we have to secure our border and do it as quickly as possible," he told Roll Call.) Last year, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) traveled to McAllen accompanied by writer (and birther) Jerome Corsi and a film crew from conspiracy website WorldNetDaily. The crew showed up unannounced at a DHS detention center at midnight and was not allowed in.
Still, Walker is smart to get his border-fence photo-op out of the way early—it may not be there much longer. If elected president, real-estate mogul Donald Trump (who has not visited the border) has pledged to personally supervise the construction of a new barrier along the southern border that will permanently end illegal immigration. "A wall," he told Iowa voters last week. "A real wall...not a wall that people walk over."
President Trump's 2020 challengers may have to visit the Canadian border instead.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee thinks questions about Hillary Clinton's emails as secretary of state "will linger" throughout the 2016 presidential race. "If the law said you had to maintain every email for public inspection, that's what you got to do," he recently told ABC News. Huckabee also suggested that the missing emails might shed new light on the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.
Huckabee, who is considering a second run for president himself, is probably right that the issue of secrecy will dog Clinton's campaign going forward. But he might not be the best man to make that case. As Mother Jonesreported in 2011, Huckabee destroyed his administration's state records before leaving office in 2007.
In February, Mother Jones wrote to the office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe seeking access to a variety of records concerning his predecessor's tenure, including Huckabee's travel records, calendars, call logs, and emails. Beebe's chief legal counsel, Tim Gauger, replied in a letter that "former Governor Huckabee did not leave behind any hard-copies of the types of documents you seek. Moreover, at that time, all of the computers used by former Governor Huckabee and his staff had already been removed from the office and, as we understand it, the hard-drives in those computers had already been 'cleaned' and physically destroyed."
He added, "In short, our office does not possess, does not have access to, and is not the custodian of any of the records you seek."
Huckabee responded at the time by attacking Mother Jones, which he claimed "doesn't pretend to be a real news outlet, but a highly polarized opinion-driven vehicle for all things to the far left." He also called the story "factually challenged." But the Arkansas Department of Information Systems confirmed that the hard drives had been destroyed while he was still in the governor's mansion. Legal? Sure. But absolutely shady.
Even before he destroyed his hard drives rather than grant the public access to his records, Huckabee took a combative approach to public records requests. When Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley (who has also weighed in on Huckabee's transparency record) requested documents from Huckabee in 1995, the then-lieutenant governor flipped out. In a press release issued by his campaign, he attacked Brantley as a "disgruntled and embittered wannabe editor" from a "trashy little tabloid"—and went after Brantley's wife, a Clinton judicial appointee, for good measure. All because the editor filed a request for records every citizen was entitled to.
Dale Bumpers Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas
Hillary Clinton's missing emails are a legitimate scandal if you care about government transparency. But many of her loudest critics have done little to inspire confidence they'd do anything differently.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign on Monday at Virginia's Liberty University, a private Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty has become a mandatory stop for aspiring Republican candidates—and it's not just for the campus museum exhibit of the taxidermied bear that Falwell's father once wrestled. Liberty is perhaps the premier academic institution of the religious right, and Cruz's choice of venue sends a clear message that he's trying to position himself in 2016 Republican field as a social conservative crusader—and that he's counting on evangelicals for support.
But Liberty University and its controversial founder have additional significance to the 2016 presidential race. During the 1990s, the anti-gay pastor did more than anyone to popularize the so-called "Clinton Body Count"—the notion that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for dozens of murders during and after their time in Arkansas. This conspiracy theory was the centerpiece of a 1994 film called the Clinton Chronicles, which Falwell helped distribute to hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country.
Despite Falwell's best efforts, though, President Bill Clinton won his 1996 re-election campaign, and the episode helped reinforce the pastor's reputation as a bigoted crank. Republican candidates will find it hard to avoid Falwell's institution as the 2016 campaign heats up. We'll see if they've learned from his mistakes, too, when it comes to taking on the Clinton political machine.
On Tuesday, I reported on the newly public diary of retired Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), the longtime Clinton ally, which is included in the 89-year-old's personal papers at the University of Arkansas. In entries penned during the 1980s, Bumpers was highly critical of the Clintons, dishing on the future First Couple's "obsessive" qualities and alleged "dirty tricks" by Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign. Bumpers, who gave the closing argument for the defense in President Clinton's impeachment trial, became a close friend and confidante of the president later in his career. But the previously unreported entries revealed a more tense relationship in the early going, as Clinton vied for political elbow room with the Democratic icon.
In response to the Mother Jones piece, the University of Arkansas library has pulled the diary from its collection at the request of Bumpers' son, Brent. Per the Arkansas Democrat–Gazette:
Brent Bumpers of Little Rock, son of the former senator, said he was "shocked" by the diary. He has questioned its origin and authenticity, saying nobody in the family had ever heard anything about Dale Bumpers keeping a dairy.
Brent Bumpers said his father, who is 89 years old, doesn't remember keeping a diary. He said Dale Bumpers always admired the Clintons and wouldn't have written the things the diary contains.
Brent Bumpers said he wants to review the diary, but he won't have the opportunity for several days.
Although Dale Bumpers hasn't personally requested that the diary be pulled, Laura Jacobs, UA associate vice chancellor for university relations, said Brent Bumpers is speaking and acting on behalf of his father regarding the Dale Bumpers Papers.
But the Bumpers diary could not have been written by anyone but Dale Bumpers. When not commenting on the various politicians he interacted with, it is filled with personal musings on his wife, Betty, and three kids; the strains of the job; can't-miss events such as the annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival; and the trials of a first-time candidate at an Iowa presidential cattle call—all interspersed with the thoughtful reflections of a lawmaker who was generally regarded as such.
This is the second time in the last year that the University of Arkansas has made news by restricting access to a political archive in its special collections. Last year, the university's library blocked the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, from accessing its collections because of a dispute over publishing rights. (The library ultimately backed down.)
With Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush both running for president, reporters (and opposition researchers) will have more access to archival records than perhaps ever before. The two candidates have nearly a century of public life between them; that's a heck of a paper trail. This may not be the last time a little-noticed archive makes news.
A copy of Contingencies—the official magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries—came in the mail on Monday. I don't know why—I'm not an actuary; I'm not even in a celebrity death pool. But there's some interesting stuff in there. AAA president Mary D. Miller, in a column titled "It Takes an Actuary," boasts that "our world will be more vital than ever" in the era of drones and Big Data, as people find more and more innovative ways to die; the puzzle columnist is retiring.
With the legalization movement racking up victory after victory, the writer, Hank George, seeks to correct a misunderstanding among his actuarial colleagues—that marijuana "conferred the same relative mortality risk as cigarette smoking." To the contrary, he writes, "recreational marijuana users enjoy better physical fitness and get more exercise than nonusers" and "have even been shown to have higher IQs." He concludes: "The tide is turning—life underwriters would be wise to be at the front end of this curve, and not stubbornly digging in their heels to the detriment of their products."
For now, at least, life insurers are still holding the line on pot smoke as a vice on par with cigarettes. But it's a testament to how far the legalization movement has grown beyond its hippie roots that even the actuaries are starting to fall in line.
In 1999, three weeks after retiring from the US Senate, Arkansas Democrat Dale Bumpers flew back to the nation's capital to save his friend of 25 years, President Bill Clinton, from impeachment. Delivering the closing argument for the defense during Clinton's Senate trial, he testified to Clinton's character. "In all of those years, and all those hundreds of times we've been together, both in public and in private," Bumpers said, "I have never one time seen the president conduct himself in a way that did not reflect the highest credit on him, his family, his state, and his beloved nation." His speech was hailed by the press—and by Clinton—as a key ingredient in the president's ultimate acquittal.
But Bumpers, who is 89, cast the Clintons in a far different light in his diary, portions of which are included in his personal papers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The collection was opened to the public last year. Writing in his journal during the 1980s, as Bill and Hillary Clinton were on the rise in Arkansas, Bumpers was critical of their character and political future, dismissing them as "manic ambitious" and "manic obsessed" and alleging that Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign had resorted to "dirty tricks."
Congress' next target: the often-vitriolic online movement known as Gamergate. On Tuesday Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), backed by the National Organization for Women and the Human Rights Campaign, asked her House colleagues to join her in demanding tighter enforcement of cyber-stalking and online harassment laws.
The Violence Against Women Act gives the federal government the authority to prosecute individuals who send violent threats over the internet, but actual convictions are hard to come by—the Department of Justice has prosecuted just 10 people for cyberstalking between 2010 and 2013. (In a long reported piece for Pacific Standard last year, the writer Amanda Hess detailed the near-impossibility of getting any level of law enforcement to investigate online threats.) "If we step up prosecuting these cases and enforce the federal laws that are already on the books, cyber-stalking—and the severity and quantity of threats that are made— we hope will be reduced," Clark tells Mother Jones.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who replaced now-Sen. Ed Markey in a 2013 special election, began looking for ways to take on internet harassment after discovering last fall that Brianna Wu, a video game developer who has become a target of so-called "GamerGate" trolls, lived in her district. Wu has received more than three dozen death threats over the last five months—including one, posted to YouTube, in which a knife-wielding man bragged about getting in a car crash on the way to Wu's house to kill her. Clark got in touch with Wu, and then with the FBI. (Wu had committed the grave sin of suggesting that tech could be a more hospitable place for women.)
In many cases, Clark found that social media networks and private sites were ambivalent about addressing the threats delivered via their platforms too. "When Brianna Wu had to pull out of a gaming conference called PAX East just last month*, the folks who were running the site for that said that a bomb threat did not violate their user policy," Clark says. Her proposal wouldn't have any effect on how private companies police their users, although she hopes companies—and trolls— will take harassment more seriously once law enforcement does. "What we're hoping to do is change the culture around accepting these threats of death, of dismemberment, of great physical harm, as mere hoaxes, and really start to think of them in the violence they’re perpetrating and the economic harm that they're doing," she adds.
As Clark sees it, cracking down on harassment isn't just about public safety and peace-of-mind—it's about dollars and cents. "We are hearing from women that they are losing wages, they are losing opportunities, speaking engagements, they are incurring legal fees, and having to hire online protective services at their own cost," she says. "Now that so much of our commerce is done online and a presence on social media is required for many professions, we really see this as an economic toll for women as well as a personal one."
Right on cue, Clark herself became a magnet for abuse after publishing an op-ed on the subject on Wednesday. (Angry Twitter users told the congresswoman to drink bleach and expressed their desire to attack her, among other things.) But as a member of Congress, she knows she can get an audience with law enforcement if she ever feels truly threatened. "We're really hoping that that is going to be available for anybody who is using the internet," she says.
In August of 2012, a salt cavern maintained by the mining company Texas Brine collapsed, creating a sinkhole outside the town of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, and prompting a mandatory evacuation order that has yet to be lifted. Two and a half years later, the sinkhole has grown to 31 acres, Texas Brine has reached a $48.6 million settlement with displaced homeowners, and the company is considering bulldozing much of the town and converting it into "green space."
But it's not just Bayou Corne evacuees who are looking for a new place to live—the neighborhood near the sinkhole is still home to 38 feral cats, who risk losing their suburban habitat if the properties return to nature because of the sinkhole.
The New Orleans Times Picayunehas the full story on the kittens of Bayou Corne, and the efforts of one of the few remaining residents, Teleca Donachricha, to find them a home:
Some of the residents had been feeding different groups of them, but those residents are all gone now. One woman had been trying to drive the hour from Baton Rouge every other day to feed one group of the cats, but Donachricha knew that wasn't going to last long. She said if the woman could provide food, she would feed the cats for her, and she has.
Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch said he couldn't say when demolition will occur. The company donated $1,000 to a nonprofit Donachricha was working with to get some of the cats spayed and neutered. All but three of the 38 cats are now spayed or neutered -- one of the remaining ones is a newer arrival that was recently dumped there, and the other two she hasn't been able to catch.
"We support her efforts," Cranch said. "Hopefully she'll be successful in finding homes for these animals."
Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, Battleground Texas' pick in the 2014 governor's race.
Battleground Texas, the effort by Obama vets to turn the nation's biggest red state blue, got off to a rough start last fall when Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis lost by 21 points. But now, as the organization looks to rebuild toward its long-term goal of mobilizing the state's long-dormant Democratic base, its leaders are doing a public dissection of what went wrong—and what to do differently next time.
In a feature published by Texas Monthly in late February, Robert Draper broke down the organization's financial struggles and turf wars, but also the difficulties Battleground faced with the field of battle of itself. The newcomers, Draper explained, had no idea just how hard it would be enroll new voters while complying with the state's Byzantine rules:
For a group like Battleground to register Texans to vote, they themselves must be Texas residents, must be eligible to vote and—in a wrinkle that is unique to Texas—must be deputized by each county where they're registering. In some of the state's 254 counties, going through the requisite voter registration training course can be done online; in others, certification is offered only once a month, at the county courthouse during work hours. But as the Battleground team came to learn, the complications only begin once a deputy registrar is certified. If a Dallas County-certified volunteer registers someone who says they live in that county when in fact they live just across the border in Tarrant County, then the deputy registrar has committed a misdemeanor. If the volunteer turns in the completed registration forms more than five days after they've been collected, that’s also a misdemeanor.
"When we first heard about these laws," recalled [executive director Jenn] Brown, "I said, 'There's no way this is the law—this is unbelievable.'"
The organization has released a 36-page report documenting the findings of its voter-protection program. There's plenty to chew over, some of it anecdotal, some of it not. In Texas' five largest counties—the urban, majority-minority areas heavily targeted by Democrats—provisional ballots were rejected more than four times as often as the national average. (Only one in four provisional votes was accepted.) That's significant because a variety of factors on the most recent Election Day—like the debut of a voter ID requirement that affected as many as 600,000 eligible voters, and a breakdown of the state's voter registration portal—made it much more likely that citizens who showed up at the polls had to fill out provisional ballots.
The report highlights another inconsistency in the state's voter law—what happens when you move:
Unfortunately, although more than one in 10 Americans move annually, Texas law requires voters to completely re-register after moving between counties within the state. If a voter fails to do so, her ability to vote is dependent upon a seemingly irrelevant factor—whether that voter casts a ballot during Early Voting or on Election Day. If a voter has moved to a new county and the voter rolls have not been updated, she is only permitted to vote a so-called limited ballot for statewide offices, and can only do so during Early Voting or by mail. On Election Day, by contrast, that same voter cannot vote at all. We received more than a hundred reports involving voters who had recently moved within Texas, yet whose address had not been updated on the voter rolls.
This isn't Battleground's attempt to explain away that 21-point stomping, and there's plenty of debate on that in the Texas Monthly piece. But it's a revealing look at what's on the organizers' minds as they retool for 2016 and beyond.
For the past few years, tiny Doyline, Louisiana, best known as the Southern Gothic setting of HBO's True Blood, has been perched next to a powder keg. Next month, the Environmental Protection Agency will decide whether to light a match.
In 2012, an explosion at Camp Minden, a former military base just outside of town that had become a hub for munitions contractors, sent a 7,000-foot mushroom cloud into the Louisiana sky. The blast rattled homes as far away as Arkansas and forced Doyline residents to evacuate. "I thought I was in Afghanistan," one resident told the Associated Press. State police investigators, who raided Camp Minden soon after, discovered that Explo Systems Inc., a munitions recycling company that operated there, was storing 15 million pounds of toxic military explosives on-site—with some of it in in paper sacks, cardboard boxes, or even outside. After the raid, the company, at the direction of state officials, moved the munitions into old bunkers the Louisiana National Guard had made available on the base in order to reduce the risk of an explosion caused by a fire or a lightning strike.
A Louisiana grand jury indicted seven Explo employees on multiple charges, including unlawful storage of explosives and conspiracy. (The case has not yet gone to trial.) Two months later, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms revoked Explo's explosives licenses. The next week, the company declared bankruptcy, triggering a fight among state and federal regulators over whose job it was to clean up the toxic mess.
Now the race is against the clock. The bunkers are falling apart—pine trees are growing on the roofs of several of them—which means the increasingly unstable materials are now being exposed to moisture. And the EPA has warned that the explosives, which become more unstable over time, are increasingly at risk of an "uncontrolled catastrophic explosion." So in October, the EPA announced it would do something it had never done before—approved a plan for a large-scale controlled burn of the hazardous military waste.
It may be that the fastest-growing demographic in the Republican Party is pro-life, telegenic, homeschooled, and mostly under the age of 27—you know, the Duggars. As in the stars of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting.
In the past couple election cycles, this birth-control-shunning family has emerged as a political player on the right. And now it looks likely that they will face a tough decision when it comes to which social conservative GOPer to back in the 2016 presidential race. The Arkansas clan helped propel Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to victory in the Iowa caucuses in 2008. And they did it with Rick Santorum in 2012. Now, with both Huckabee and Santorum considering presidential campaigns this year, the Duggars may have to choose between them. Or might they dump both for a new favorite?
Southwest Times Record; John Paul Hammerschmidt Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville
Even the onetime leader of the free world was once just a lowly Area Man. That headline, from the Southwest (Arkansas) Times Record, heralded the inconspicuous start of Bubba's political career, when he launched his first campaign in 1974, against Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt (R-Ark.) Clinton, at the time a law professor at the University of Arkansas, hoped to ride anti-Watergate sentiment to Congress in the state's most conservative congressional district, but fell just short. It might have been for the best—he was elected the state's attorney general two years later and, two years after that, became America's youngest governor.
The newspaper clipping was included in Hammerschmidt's personal and public papers at the University of Arkansas. Also in the collection: what appears to be the first ever anti-Clinton whisper campaign, from a former law student of Clinton's who claimed the candidate had once lost a bunch of papers:
John Paul Hammerschmidt Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville
Jordan Mansfield uses a video visitation system to speak with her husband at the DeSoto County jail in Hernando, Mississippi.
On a chilly Sunday evening in December, a smattering of parents and small children trickled into a graffiti-covered concrete building on the grounds of the DC Jail. It was the last day to visit with prisoners before Christmas Eve, and some of the visitors were wearing Santa hats or bearing presents. The only thing missing was inmates. Three years ago, Washington, DC, eliminated in-person visitation for the roughly 1,800 residents of its jails and installed 54 video-conferencing screens in this building across the parking lot from the detention facility. The screens were installed, at no expense to taxpayers, by a Virginia-based company called Global Tel*Link (GTL), which had scored a lucrative contract for the facility's phone service.
Now the only way families in the capital can see their loved ones in jail—many of whom have not yet been convicted of a crime and will be shipped out of state if they are—is to sit in front of a webcam for 45 minutes. (Two free weekly visits are allotted.) The video on the laptop-size screens often lags, creating an echo effect. It's a cold, impersonal way to speak with someone a few hundred feet away. The effect, the Washington Post editorial board charged, has been "to punish prisoners and families."
Montana Republican state Rep. David Moore has a plan to guide America out of the darkness—ban yoga pants.
Moore, who is upset that group of naked bicyclists pedaled through Missoula last year, decided that what his state really needs right now is tighter regulations on trousers. His proposed bill, HB 365, would outlaw not just nudity, but also "any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region." Per the Billings Gazette:
The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal.
"Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway," Moore said after the hearing.
Moore said he wouldn’t have a problem with people being arrested for wearing provocative clothing but that he'd trust law enforcement officials to use their discretion. He couldn’t be sure whether police would act on that provision or if Montana residents would challenge it.
"I don't have a crystal ball," Moore said.
Merlin's pants! According to the Great Falls Tribune, Moore elaborated that he also believes Speedos should be illegal.
HB 365 continues a miraculous stretch for the Montana legislature. Just last December the Republican-controlled legislature issued new dress-code guidelines for the state capitol, advising women that they should "should be sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines."
Likely GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson describes a fish he once caught.
Tea party favorite Ben Carson has said some out-there stuff. The former neurosurgeon, author, and possible Republican presidential candidate once compared women who get abortions to dog-abuser Michael Vick, blamed the decline and fall of the Roman Empire on gay marriage, and concluded that believing in evolution was like thinking that "a hurricane blowing through a junkyard could somehow assemble a fully equipped and flight-ready 747."
But in his writings and public remarks, he has also voiced views on hot-button issues—immigration, foreign policy, gun control—that place him well outside the tea-party mainstream. He once embraced a universal catastrophic health care plan, and some of his other past positions—gasp!—sound downright liberal. Here are some of the comments that may put him at odds with the conservative GOP base.
Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson rallied Republicans at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, stirring up speculation once more that the conservative activist will seek his party's presidential nomination next year. Carson has never run for office and only recently registered as a Republican, but as the author of six books over more than two decades, he does have a considerable paper trail—and it's starting to get him into trouble.
In his 1992 book Think Big, for instance, Carson proposed a national catastrophic health care plan modeled on federal disaster insurance, which would be funded by a 10-percent tax on insurance companies. He also proposed re-thinking best practices concerning end-of-life care, advocating for a "national discussion that would help us all rethink our culture's mind-set about death, dying, and terminal illness"—similar to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that conservatives now dismiss as "death panels." (A Carson spokesman told BuzzFeed last week that the health care proposal is "as relevant to his view today as our current military action in Afghanistan is compared to our military strategy in Afghanistan two decades ago.")
Although filled with inspiring stories of medical miracles and his own rough-and-tumble roots, Carson's books also reflect the views of a social-values warrior whose anti-gay comments recently caused him to withdraw as a commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins University, his longtime employer. A sampling:
On intelligent design (from Take the Risk):
From what I know (and all we don't know) about biology, I find it as hard to accept the claims of evolution as it is to think that a hurricane blowing through a junkyard could somehow assemble a fully equipped and flight-ready 747. You could blow a billion hurricanes through a trillion junkyards over infinite periods of time, and I don't think you'd get one aerodynamic wing, let alone an entire jumbo jet complete with complex connections for a jet-propulsion system, a radar system, a fuel-injection system, an exhaust system, a ventilation system, control systems, electronic systems, plus backup systems for all of those, and so much more. There's simply not enough time in eternity for that to happen. Which is why not one of us has ever doubted that a 747, by its very existence, gives convincing evidence of someone's intelligent design.
On the failing of the fossil record (from Take the Risk):
For me, the plausibility of evolution is further strained by Darwin's assertion that within fifty to one hundred years of his time, scientists would become geologically sophisticated enough to find the fossil remains of the entire evolutionary tree in an unequivocal step-by-step progression of life from amoeba to man—including all of the intermediate species.
Of course that was 150 years ago, and there is still no such evidence. It's just not there. But when you bring that up to the proponents of Darwinism, the best explanation they can come up with is "Well...uh...it's lost!" Here again I find it requires too much faith for me to believe that explanation given all the fossils we have found without any fossilized evidence of the direct, step-by-step evolutionary progression from simple to complex organisms or from one species to another species. Shrugging and saying, "Well, it was mysteriously lost, and we'll probably never find it," doesn't seem like a particularly satisfying, objective, or scientific response. But what's even harder for me to swallow is how so many people who can't explain it are still willing to claim that evolution is not theory but fact, at the same time insisting anyone who wants to consider or discuss creationism as a possibility cannot be a real scientist.
On abortion (from America the Beautiful):
This situation perhaps crystallizes one of the major moral dilemmas we face in American society today: Does a woman have the right to terminate another human life because it is encased in her body? Does ownership convey absolute power of life and death over the owned subject? If it does, then NFL quarterback Michael Vick was unfairly imprisoned for torturing and killing dogs in Atlanta.
On gay parents (from The Big Picture):
Recently a homosexual couple brought a child in to be examined on one of our neurosurgical clinical days. During lunch, after the couple had left, one of my fellow staff members commented favorably on the couple's obvious love and commitment to the child. He said to me, "I know you don't approve of homosexual relationships and wouldn't consider their home a healthy atmosphere in which to raise a child. But I was impressed by that couple. I think their sexual orientation is their business. Think what you want, but it's just your opinion."
My response wasn't nearly that politically correct. "Excuse me, but I beg to differ," I said. "How I feel and what I think isn't just my opinion. God in his Word says very clearly that he considers homosexual acts to be an 'abomination.'"
On how gay marriage brought down the Roman Empire (from America the Beautiful):
I believe God loves homosexuals as much as he loves everyone, but if we can redefine marriage as between two men or two women or any other way based on social pressures as opposed to between a man and a woman, we will continue to redefine it in any way that we wish, which is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire.
On Washington[Redacted] owner Dan Snyder (from One Nation):
On the other hand, many of the greatest achievers in our society never finished college. That includes Bill Gates Jr., Steve Jobs, and Dan Snyder, who is the owner of the Washington [NFL franchise].
(Carson elsewhere defended Snyder's refusal to change his team's name and called the oft-criticized owner "far from the demonic characterization seen in the gullible press that allows itself to be manipulated by those wishing to bring about fundamental change in America.")
On Independence Day (from Think Big):
I do not get to see many movies, but when I watched the video of Independence Day with my sons, I was struck by the portrayal of the resistance efforts mounted against the alien invaders from outer space. The frail and arbitrary distinctions so often made between various segments of society, even between different countries and ideologies, instantly melted away as the people of the entire world focused not on their differences but upon a common threat and the common goal uniting them—the protection of the planet from alien invaders.
Unlike some of his fellow candidates, though, Carson has made little effort to sugar-coat his most polarizing views. Even before he revealed any political ambitions, he'd moonlighted as a traveling Creationism advocate, giving speeches on the subject and even debating skeptic Richard Dawkins on evolution in 2006:
Lt. General Russel L. Honoré first noticed something was deeply wrong in his home state of Louisiana in September 2005, a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast. Honoré, commander of the military's disaster response operation, was choppering back to his floating headquarters aboard the USS Bataan when he saw a ribbon of rainbow on the water beneath him. "What in the heck is that?" he recalls asking the pilot. "He said, 'Those are old oil wells, General—you see the derricks knocked down.'" Honoré was staring down at one of the storm's little-noticed consequences—millions of gallons of oil spilled into the state's fragile coastal wetlands. "And my heart almost stopped."
As he recounts the story one Saturday morning outside a coffee shop near his home in Baton Rouge, Honoré's eyes widen incredulously. "Come to find out later, many of those oil wells were actually abandoned," he explains. "And even today—listen to me—the derricks are still on the ground. They've never been picked up."
In the past couple of years, the 67-year-old Army lifer has undergone an almost religious awakening, throwing himself into one of the largest environmental combat zones in the United States. Louisiana has given oil and gas companies carte blanche to carve up its southern coast. Things aren't much better on dry land, where some of the state's poorest residents live in the shadow of some of the country's largest polluters. In response, Honoré has formed the Green Army, an organization that's advocated for some of the state's most threatened communities while clashing with the petrochemical lobby and its champion in Baton Rouge, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Now he might be aiming for something even bigger—the governor's mansion.
The general was born during a hurricane in 1947, on his family's subsistence farm in Pointe Coupee Parish. Honoré, who is African American and identifies as Creole, attended colored schools, paid his way through college, and enlisted in the Army in 1971 over his parents' protests. By 2004, he'd become a three-star general in charge of the First Army and responsible for the deployment of National Guard divisions heading to Iraq. When Katrina hit, his Louisiana roots and local patois made him a natural pick to head Joint Task Force Katrina. Amid the flailing of FEMA and local authorities, Honoré earned respect as a hard-ass—"a black John Wayne dude," as then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin put it. He eased the fears of New Orleans' black residents by ordering his soldiers to "put those damn weapons down" and ended his television interviews by shouting, "Over!" Honoré, a Times-Picayune reporter wrote, was a "salty-mouthed, cigar-chompin' guardian angel in camouflage."
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) is recovering nicely after falling off a horse while on vacation in Tanzania in December. The Clinton confidante broke seven ribs in the fall and underwent an operation on Monday to drain fluid from his chest. Fortunately for McAuliffe, he's in good company—politicians have had trouble holding onto their horses since at least the time of Herodotus. A brief history:
2014: At a holiday parade in Tulsa, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) loses control of his horse, Speck, and crashes into a parked minivan with "Merry Christmas" written on the side.
2014: Dressed in colonial garb for a tourism video, Geelong, Australia mayor Darryn Lyons falls off his horse. His peroxide mohawk is unharmed.
2013: Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (pronounced just like it's spelled) shuts down his nation's internet after a viral YouTube video circulates showing him falling off his horse during a race.
2011: Former Alabama supreme court chief justice Roy Moore breaks several bones after falling off his horse. Moore recovers and triumphantly rides his horse to the polls the next year to vote for himself.
2010: Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) needs two ten-inch bolts to repair a broken pelvis after falling from his horse at a ranch.
2004: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) falls off a horse during a congressional delegation to Kazakhstan after downing six shots of vodka. Montana Democrats circulate an unsubstantiated rumor that Rehberg consumed a total of 20 shots of vodka and serenaded his hosts by chanting "meep meep" like a Conehead.
2003: Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan falls off an Arabian horse at an Istanbul park, after two previous attempts to hop on were unsuccessful. "The important point is to be able to stand up after falling down," he says.
1908: President Theodore Roosevelt, a noted outdoorsman, is thrown off his mount while fording Washington, DC's Rock Creek. He falls 10 feet but lands beside the horse, escaping further injury.
1847: Future president Franklin Pierce is thrown from his horse during battle outside Mexico City. Pierce's leg is crushed after his horse falls on him, and he passes out, for which his subordinates derisively nickname him "Fainting Frank."
Is Mitt Romney becoming a climate change crusader?
During his 2012 presidential bid, Romney was dismissive about Democratic efforts to combat the effects of climate change, and he pushed for an expanded commitment to fossil fuels. But in a speech in California on Monday, Romney, who is considering a third run for president in 2016, signaled a shift on the issue. According to the Palm Springs Desert Sun, the former Massachusetts governor "said that while he hopes the skeptics about global climate change are right, he believes it's real and a major problem," and he lamented that Washington had done "almost nothing" to stop it.
Each year, the opposition party taps a member to deliver a response to the president's State of the Union address. For Tuesday night's speech—President Barack Obama's sixth—Republicans have awarded this duty to Iowa freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, who rose to prominence last spring when she released a campaign ad about castrating a pig.
The GOP has also announced it will be offering a Spanish-language rebuttal, which will be delivered tonight by freshman Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a young conservative from a diverse Miami congressional district. But there's a wrinkle. According to a press release from the House Republicans, Curbelo will not be sharing his own thoughts and words with the public. Instead, he will only be reading a Spanish translation of Ernst's speech.
Curbelo's office confirmed that he will not be delivering his own remarks.
By the way, Ernst has endorsed English as a national language and once sued Iowa's secretary of state for offering voting forms in languages other than English. Her office did not respond to requests for comment.
Curbelo has broken with his own party on immigration to support a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. Ernst has repeatedly expressed opposition to "amnesty."
Update: Following the publication of this article, House Republicans changed their tune. Read more here.
Politics is a family business for potential Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Over the last six years, the Fox News host's political action committee, which was created to raise money for GOP candidates, has paid nearly $400,000 to members of Huckabee's extended family, while spending just a fraction of its multimillion-dollar fundraising haul on the Republican contenders.
Huck PAC, which Huckabee launched in 2008 after dropping out of the Republican presidential race, "is committed to electing conservatives across the nation at all levels of government," according to a statement on its website. But according to review of Federal Election Commission records, a significant portion of the money the PAC has collected has gone into the salaries of family members or the coffers of direct-mail fundraising firms.
One of the most hyped potential candidates of the 2016 presidential campaign has clashed frequently with his party's higher-ups. He is known for his outspoken views on the surveillance state, his opposition to overseas entanglements, his warnings about the broken criminal-justice system, his desire to expand the party's tent to include voters otherwise alienated by identity politics—and for the Confederate-flag-waving supporters who'd follow him anywhere.
Unfortunately for Jim Webb, I'm talking about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Since launching a presidential exploratory committee last month, the former one-term Virginia senator, author, Navy secretary, and Vietnam vet has spent the first weeks of his nascent campaign drawing a contrast with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party's most likely nominee. The little-touted candidacy of Webb, who was floated as a running mate during President Barack Obama's first campaign, is a reminder of how far the ground has shifted since his first run for office nine years ago. Two years after leaving the Senate, Webb's ideas are finally ascendant—but under a different banner.
After announcing he was forming a presidential exploratory committee last month, former Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush quickly began pulling together a political operation of strategists, consultants and donors. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that DC insider Richard Hohlt, a Republican lobbyist, has become an informal member of the Jeb Bush campaign team. But the newspaper neglected to note that Hohlt is more than your average Washington influence-peddler.
Hohlt has been a key and somewhat infamous lobbyist for the financial industry, best known for assisting the corrupt savings-and-loan banking industry three decades ago in its battle with federal regulators—at a profound cost to US taxpayers. And in 2009, following the Wall Street-driven economic demise, Citigroup enlisted him to assist its efforts in Washington.
Hohlt has worked the halls of the nation's capital for various corporate giants, including Chevron and Altria. But he is best known for assisting the S&L gang three decades ago. He kept regulators at bay on behalf of these thrifts, which were overextended and speculating with federally insured deposits. The ensuing S&L collapse, which happened during the Reagan and (first) Bush years, helped drive the US economy into the tank, launched a series of investigations, and yielded criminal convictions. As the New York Times reported six years ago, "Critics say that as a top lobbyist for the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, Mr. Hohlt blocked regulation of these institutions and played a pivotal role helping to prolong dubious industry practices that cost taxpayers $150 billion to clean up." (Incidentally, an S&L run by Jeb Bush’s brother, Neil, went belly-up at a cost of $1 billion to taxpayers.)
Conservatives think they've found new ammunition for their campaign against the Clintons—a new Clinton sex scandal. Or sort of.
On Monday, Raffi Williams, deputy press secretary for the Republican Party, tweeted, "Woman Suing Jeffrey Epstein For Sexual Slavery Claimed Bill Clinton Must Have Known" and linked to a post that in turn referred to a Daily Mailstory from 2011. The Drudge Report went for the more sensational "BUBBA AND THE PALM BEACH PEDOPHILE" and linked to the same story. Conservative viral news sites Twitchy and IJReview piled on, as did pundits at conservative websites, including Breitbart and the Blaze.
What has the right in a tizzy is a six-year-old lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein, a former Democratic donor who has been accused of luring underage girls to his island resort to give massages before ultimately sexually assaulting them. Epstein, a billionaire hedge fund manager, pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting an underage woman and served 13 months in prison. But unsealed court documents revealed that he had been the subject of a much larger federal probe into alleged prostitution and could have faced 10 years in prison or more, if the case had gone forward. After his guilty plea, two of his alleged victims, who had were underage at the time of their encounter with Epstein, sued him in federal court, claiming that he had a "sexual preference and obsession for underage girls" and that he had sexually assaulted them (and many others). Epstein has consistently denied criminal wrongdoing and downplayed his 2008 conviction, telling the New York Post that he is "not a sexual predator."
Last week a new anonymous allegation was introduced in the case, with a court filing charging that Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, had sexually abused an underage girl when he was a guest at Epstein's house in the US Virgin Islands. (Prince Andrew has denied any wrongdoing.) And on Monday, The Smoking Gunresurfaced old court documents revealing that Epstein's phone book included telephone numbers and email addresses for Bill Clinton. ("Now that Prince Andrew has found himself ensnared in the sleazy sex slave story of wealthy degenerate Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Clinton can't be too far behind," the site declared.)
Clinton's relationship with Epstein is old news. It's long been publicly known that Clinton and other notable figures hobnobbed with Epstein. Still, the new headlines the case has generated have given GOPers a fresh opportunity to try to link Clinton to a sex scandal. Williams, the GOP spokesman, was attempting to draw attention to a three-year-old story that does not implicate Clinton in any lawbreaking. That article, which relies on court documents, recounts the story of Virginia Roberts, who alleged that she became Epstein's sex slave at the age of 15 and that Clinton had once had dinner with Epstein and two girls whom she believed were underage (but she didn't know their ages). But, according to the Daily Mail, Roberts said that "as far as she knows, the ex-President did not take the bait." Roberts did say that she believed Clinton had to have been aware of Epstein's alleged illegal activities, but provided no evidence to support her assumption.
Clinton and Epstein were indeed once close. The former president used Epstein's private jet. And the presence of numerous teenage girls on the financier's private island might have struck a visitor as unusual or even troublesome. But there certainly was a compelling reason for a politician not to ask too many questions: Epstein had given tens of millions of dollars to political and philanthropic causes. And there's another ingredient to the case that makes it a less-than-natural fit for political point-scoring—one of Epstein's lawyers during his criminal case was none other than Kenneth Starr, whose investigation in the Clinton White House produced the Lewinsky scandal.
With GOPers always eager for more soap opera material on the Clintons, don't expect this story and its (so far) thin Clinton connection to go away quietly.
Before he was a prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson was just another disaffected teenager who hopped freight trains in search of thrills.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who plans to make a final decision about running for president by the end of May, became a tea party favorite after ripping into President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. Since then, he has staked out far-right positions on issues like gay rights (which he believes are part of a Marxist plot), the AP US History curriculum (which he fears will be an ISIS recruiting tool), and the 2016 election itself (which he believes might be canceled due to a societal breakdown).
Carson's rags-to-riches story, as a one-time juvenile delinquent raised by a single mom who rose to the top of the medical profession, is at the core of his personal appeal. It has been the subject of a best-selling book and a feature-length movie. His youthful habit of hopping aboard moving freight trains is considerably less well known. But as Carson explained in his 2008 book, Take the Risk, he and his older brother, Curtis, began riding freight trains after moving back to Detroit from Boston for middle school:
We didn't think twice about it at the time, and Mother certainly didn't know about the risks we took, but just getting to and from school in our new neighborhood was a dangerous proposition. The fastest and most exciting way to commute was to hop one of the freight trains rolling on the tracks that ran alongside the route Curtis and I took to Wilson Junior High School. Curtis liked the challenge of fast-moving trains, tossing his clarinet onto one flatcar and then jumping to catch the railing on the very last car of the train. He knew if he missed his chance, he risked never seeing his band instrument again. But he never lost that clarinet.
Since I was smaller, I usually waited for slower trains. But we both placed ourselves in great danger we didn't ever seriously stop to consider. Not only did we have to run, jump, catch the railing, and hold on for dear life to a moving freight train, but we had to avoid the railroad security who were always on the lookout for people hopping their trains.
They never caught us. And we never got seriously injured like one boy we heard of who was maimed for life after falling onto the tracks under a moving train.
As I reported in the January/February issue of Mother Jones, freight-hopping has always attracted a certain brand of (usually male) individualists who are skeptical of centralized authority. Carson's Bo Keeley phase came to an end, however, after a run-in with a gang of racist youths. "We stopped after an encounter I had with a different threat as I trotted along the railroad tracks on my way to school along one morning," he wrote. "Near one of the crossings, a gang of bigger boys, all of them white, approached me. One boy, carrying a big stick, yelled, 'Hey, you! Nigger boy!'"
If elected, Carson wouldn't be the first president with a hobo past. When Harry Truman was 18, he got a job with the Santa Fe Railroad, which required him to manage the migrant workers who rode the rails to do manual labor for the company. "Some of those hoboes had better educations than the president of Harvard University, and they weren't stuck up about it either," he later recalled.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon had a grand idea: the World Peace King Tunnel. It would be 53 miles long, cost $400 billion, and stretch underneath the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. It would take three years to build. When completed, it would link up with the eight-lane International Peace Highway that Moon had also proposed. That road would be bordered on both sides by one kilometer of land that would not belong to any nation. When both projects were completed, traffic could pass unimpeded from the Cape of Good Hope to New York City. And if travelers wanted to get married in the tunnel, there'd be places to do that, too.
A multinational construction project that had no funding stream or historical precedent and that was proposed by a self-described messiah who believed he had posthumously healed Adolf Hitler might strike some people as a bit ambitious. But in 2005, when Moon, the late South Korean-born conservative media mogul and founder of the Unification Church, embarked on a world tour to promote his idea, he brought along an unusual companion—Neil Bush, the younger brother of President George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
As Jeb Bush now aims to become the third member of his family to be elected president, he'll have to navigate the legacy not just of his polarizing older brother, but also that of his younger brother, whose business exploits have dogged—if not tainted—the family for decades. In 1988, Neil Bush was embroiled in the savings and loan scandal after his business went belly-up and cost US taxpayers $1 billion.
His recent investments have dovetailed neatly with his brothers' work. In 1999, Neil, backed by "junk bond king" Michael Milken and a Saudi prince, pushed a for-profit education tech venture called Ignite! Learning that sold "curriculum on wheels" consoles to schools. Much of the money for those purchases would come from W.'s No Child Left Behind law, which mandated a new testing regime in public schools. (Neil has said his focus on education was inspired by his own dyslexia.) When his mother, Barbara, wrote a check to assist students who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she stipulated that the money be spent on her son's curriculum on wheels, according to the Houston Chronicle. Neil also got a big hand from his friend, the Rev. Moon. The Washington Times Foundation, which was at the time operated by Moon's Unification Church, spent $1 million to promote Ignite products in Northern Virginia.
We were onthe edge of the desert near Barstow, perched on the side of a freight train that was picking up speed, when my doubts began to take hold.
Steven "Bo" Keeley and I had been introduced by chance. A year earlier, I had gone to Oakland to meet up with a friend, an East Bay radical of the Occupy sort who had lured me west with the promise of hopping freights. I had long been fascinated by the notion, picking up scraps of wisdom here and there—avoid the "bulls" (hobo slang for railroad security); watch out for tunnels; pack plenty of rope. The plan was to catch a northbound to Mount Shasta and thumb our way back. But something came up. In the meantime, my friend told me, she had a book that might tide me over. It was the memoir of a hobo she'd met once over dinner, a real Renaissance tramp, who takes groups of corporate executives with him on freight-hopping adventures. Nice enough guy, a little boisterous—and a prolific composer of emails.
Illustrations by Red Nose Studio
The first thing you'll discover about Bo Keeley is that his Wikipedia page reads like Indiana Jones. "Bo's Wikipedia entry reads like Indiana Jones," states the about-the-author page of one of his most recent books, which details his past as a veterinarian, a former national racquetball champion, and the most-requested substitute teacher ever to be fired during a playground war in Blythe, California. It's not an entirely fair comparison—did Henry Jones Jr. ever claim to have guided "twenty Brazilian evangelists with a penlight from a jungle bus crash" or chased "rhinoceros horn smugglers after being deputized and armed with a pistol in Namibia"? Many of these claims are sourced to Keeley himself, making the page a matter of some controversy. But it's that muddy trench between man and myth that makes it such an alluring document. As one Wikipedia editor put it, "Due to the uniqueness of the individual, some hyperbole is understandable."
Among other exploits, Keeley claims to have applied for a Guinness world record for most near-death experiences (which he scores on a one-to-nine scale of "Catman points," based on how many of a cat's lives would have been snuffed out), brokered deals for the nation's leading hedge fund manager, and been one of the only gringos to ride the freight trains from southern Mexico to the US border. Last year, tens of thousands of migrants rode the so-called "Train of Death" fleeing rape, murder, cartels, and crushing poverty—all of which accompanied them on La Bestia. Keeley did it because it sounded like a good time.
Bo Keeley outside Barstow, California in May, 2014. Photo: Tim Murphy
Keeley is a particularly social kind of loner, and he has attracted an intriguing band of followers who tag along on and subsidize his adventures. On his website, amid writings, photos, and a detailed timeline of his first 65 years on Earth, he advertises a travel service called "Bo Keely Tours," inviting working professionals to break out of the monotony of their desk jobs and risk life and limb with him on the rails. (He spells his name without the third "e" when he's writing because he wants to maintain a distinction between his traveler persona and his legal identity, or, depending on when you ask him, because it's easier to sign autographs.) The Keeley package includes the option of staying at homeless shelters or bivouacking in encampments known as hobo jungles. The less adventurous sign up for spelunking trips in abandoned mine shafts or treks across the Mexican desert. In turn, Keeley's "executive hoboes"—an almost exclusively white, almost exclusively male fraternity of lawyers, programmers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors—have welcomed him into their world and in many cases their homes. He's been feted by financiers and invited to exclusive anarcho-capitalist Aspen retreats, floating in and out of his high-rolling friends' lives like their very own Neal Cassady. What, I wondered, attracted them to Keeley and his lifestyle? Were his adventures simply Outward Bound for the Burning Man set? Perhaps Keeley, himself a devotee of Ayn Rand, offered a portal for something deeper. Perhaps he was a sort of objectivist folk hero who reminded them going Galt was possible, even if they never would. Or maybe they just really liked trains.
I decided to sign up. In an email, I told Keeley I wanted to catch out with him to see what he sees. And frankly, because I wasn't sure he was real.
After nine hours in the Barstow railroad yard—nine hours hiding from the bulls while climbing over black tankers in 95-degree heat—the experience was all too real. We were crouched on the front grill of a container car going 5 mph toward Los Angeles, back to where we had come from, and Keeley was telling me to jump. I tossed my bag from the car, checked my footing, and leaped forward, tumbling, with the grace of a sinking barge, on my face. One track over, a mile-long train gave a jerk. Eastbound. Keeley, who'd managed to dismount at a graceful jog, hopped on, and beckoned for me to come. What else could I do? Two hands grabbed the ladder, then one foot, and now—steady—I was on. Our knees were inches away from the grinding wheels as the train picked up speed past a watchtower, past yard workers on four-wheelers, past one last spotlight, and at last into the open. A woman in a convertible jabbed at her driver to look up, honey, look at the hoboes! For the first time all day there was a breeze, and the mountains provided shade from the fading sun as we sped through the Mojave toward Needles. Keeley gazed off through sunglasses with one lens missing, his head tilted up, a contented look across his face. He pulled out a notebook and began to scribble away. It was only later that I realized he was writing backward.
Our correspondence had begun in earnest in May.His first words were: "I needed a break—I came from Peru and got beat up by the jungle." This was a euphemism, it turns out, for being evacuated out of the Amazon by a plane owned by the Argentine oil giant Pluspetrol after showing up at one of the company's outposts, anemic and demanding to speak with the president. Keeley had flown back to the States to recover from this latest ordeal, and set up shop in the Miami offices of a friend. Over the phone, his first call in more than a year, we settled on the rough outlines of an itinerary.
I wanted the full-immersion executive hobo experience. The plan was to start out West, where the rail yards are more open and the mountains more grand, and work our way east, to Chicago or Council Bluffs, or Texas, if it really came to that. We would buy clean clothes at Willy's (Goodwill) and spend our nights at Sally's (Salvation Army shelters), listening to sermons from born-again preachers in exchange for a hot meal and a warm shower and some yarns. We would exchange knowing nods in the jungle with our fellow hoboes, our partners in grime, and maneuver past the bulls using cunning and agility rendered dormant by the trappings of modernity.
Leaving the world behind is a major selling point, as well as a source of tension, for Keeley's acolytes. Credit cards and wireless devices invariably find their way into the packs of the execs (a term he uses to describe basically anyone with a desk job), and from time to time one will desert the expedition altogether in search of a square meal and a hotel. But for the most part, they want to see how the other half lives.
"As a suburban middle-class kid, I had no understanding of things like poverty or homelessness or any of the things that would drive somebody to eat at a rescue mission," says Arthur Tyde, an open-source software pioneer, recalling the first of several freight-hopping trips he's taken with Keeley. "I was like, 'Oh my God, there's so much more bandwidth to the human experience than I'd ever been able to tune into before.'" The speculator Doug Casey told me about a highlight of his cross-country trek with Keeley: They were standing for a sermon at a mission one night when they found themselves in the middle of a knife fight. "The average person is like, 'Oh, isn't it dangerous? Oh, isn't it illegal? Isn't it gonna be uncomfortable?'" he says. "It can be dangerous, and it is illegal, and it is uncomfortable—and I recommend it highly."
Tyde and Casey are emblematic of the type drawn to Keeley—masters of self-invention with a libertarian streak. After school at Michigan State University, Tyde moved to the Bay Area and founded Linuxcare, an early open-source software company, and began to dabble as a private investigator. Casey, an early goldbug, struck it big in 1978 with a book called The International Man, which encouraged readers to leave national borders behind in pursuit of wealth. (It became a bestseller in Rhodesia.) Now comfortably wealthy, Casey is pursuing his pet project, convincing heads of state—"generally military dictators"—to grant private corporations full economic control of their countries. The strongmen would take 10 percent of the profits, 85 percent would go to the people, and 5 percent would be publicly sold. He has never been given the green light, but his latest target is Mauritania. In such a world, trespassing laws are just another burdensome regulation to be cast aside.
A few days before I left for California, I had arranged to talk with Keeley again, but he asked to reschedule. "[I] forgot that tomorrow from early morn until 4pm time here i'm in court watching my friend attorney defend a homicide of a parrot who was witness to murder of human," he wrote. "[T]he parrot's name is Money and the high profile case is called 'Money Talks'." This is, I would discover, a trademark of a good Keeley yarn—largely true, in the same way that a steak salad is largely good for you. "Money Talks," as Keeley dubbed it, wasn't high-profile; the press never even noticed it. The defendant was accused of murdering another man in what prosecutors deemed a drug squabble. But there really was a parrot, and it really did die. As proof of the man's pathological tendencies, the prosecution contended that he had murdered the victim's bird too. Dan Factor, an attorney for the defendant, knew Keeley from his days on the professional racquetball circuit, and although they had not seen each other for 20 years, he had kept abreast of his old friend's exploits. He told me that he was planning to leave behind the legal profession imminently, perhaps to open a shamanistic resort with his wife in Peru.
As I bided my time, I picked up a copy of Bo's recent book, Keeley's Kures: Alternative Practices From the Trails and Trials of a World-Champion Hobo-Adventurer. It's a character study masquerading as a self-help book. At one juncture, we are informed that the author's passion for science caused him to contract 35 percent of all ailments known to man, "including the obscure Hobo disease." (This is a real thing, morbus errorum, caused by lice bites; don't Google it.) He recommends reading backward and upside down, which he has trained himself to do, as a corrective to vision problems and neck pain. But most of his survival tips are fairly minimalist. The cure for altitude sickness is distilled water. The cure for bladder stones is distilled water. The cure for anxiety is distilled water. The cure for strokes is distilled water. In Keeley's view, distilled water is a nectar of the gods, although other nectars can do in a pinch—he claims that, lost in the desert in triple-digit heat, he once survived by drinking his own urine. I made a note to pack distilled water.
Keeley greeted me at the Amtrak station in downtown Los Angeles with a smile and a handshake. "Are you a hobo?" he asked. He didn't look like one. He'd come from the "Money Talks" trial in a crisp blue-and-white button-down shirt and was thin but healthy, with enough hair to be thankful for and a tattoo on his arm of a mouse with a smiley face and a teardrop, because "on the road, you're always happy or you've got a tear in your eye." Keeley watched as I sent a text message from the cab and quizzed me on how it worked. He uses Facebook in internet cafés but newer forms of technology flummox him—he struggled so magnificently to understand the Los Angeles subway fare machines that another passenger got off with him to help him purchase his ticket. I'd hardly known Keeley five minutes before he began unspooling his life story and telling me about his most generous benefactor, a renegade Connecticut hedge fund mogul named Victor Niederhoffer.
Keeley was the older of two brothers in a traditional Midwestern family. His father, who died in 2013, was a Navy engineer and a DIY enthusiast who built a two-person submarine in his garage. At the age of five, Bo finished his first painting. It was a freight train. He was a Boy Scout, an Episcopalian, and a productive student. When he arrived on campus at Michigan State as part of an accelerated veterinary program, he looked, one friend recalled, "like a young Republican."
Granted all-night access to the gym through his work-study, he began experimenting with racquetball, and after submitting his exams, decided to forgo veterinary practice to play in the new professional league. He was a star, as these things go. Keeley was profiled in Sports Illustrated and published a how-to book that he says became the sport's bible. He also offered glimpses of his future self—driving across the country, for example, with a seven-foot-tall stuffed rabbit named Fillmore Hare sitting shotgun. (The rabbit could wave to passersby when Keeley pulled a string that was tied to his hand; it was, he explained, a great way to pick up girls.) Keeley's father questioned his decision to put his veterinary practice on hold and hustle racquetball. His mother was more philosophical. "He was in a mold," she told SI, "and he stepped out of it."
Bo Keeley in his professional racquetball years. Wikipedia
Before long, he walked away from professional racquetball too. "The famous Charlie Brumfield match," he says. The Ali and Frazier of American racquetball were good friends who'd once even lived together in East Lansing, along with a Chuck Berry backup band called the Woolies. SI dubbed their friendship "the birth of modern racquetball." But stylistically they were worlds apart. Keeley prided himself on conditioning. Brumfield was coldly manipulative. "He would play honestly, he would call his own skips, he would give me room to hit, and I did none of that fucking shit," says Brumfield, now a lawyer in San Diego. At the fatal match in 1977, Keeley was leading when Brumfield excused himself from the court and disappeared. He returned, well-rested, an hour later to win. "It should've been a forfeit," Keeley seethes, 37 years later. In an instant, racquetball's Joe Frazier became racquetball's Richie Tenenbaum, leaving the sport behind in search of his spirit.
Keeley's next quest for reinvention hit a wall in the early 1980s when he fell in with a charismatic Salt Lake City martial arts instructor who claimed to be telekinetic. A journalist revealed the guru, James Hydrick, to be a fake; Hydrick was later revealed to be a child molester as well. (Total Catman points: one.) After they parted ways, Keeley hit the rails.
Bo on the cover of the now defunct Racquetball Illustrated magazine. Facebook
Being an international hobo is expensive, but fortunately for Keeley, the kind of people who excelled at racquet sports tended to move on to white-collar jobs when they were done. Before long, he got a boost from an old friend—Niederhoffer, a squash player whose renown on the court was eclipsed only by his prowess as an investment banker. They had bonded years earlier over shoes; Keeley, who wore mismatched red and blue kicks to tournaments, noticed Niederhoffer wearing mismatched black and white ones. As Keeley roamed the globe, they exchanged letters. During one of their regular racquetball meetups in New York City, Niederhoffer asked Keeley to work for him. Together, they devised a set of metrics, what Niederhoffer dubbed "low-life indicators," that would measure the health of an economy by studying its most granular elements. The most common example would be the length of discarded cigarette butts—when times were bad, their theory went, bums would smoke them down to the filter. Other indicators included the amount of popcorn on the floor at skid row movie theaters and the amount of time a prostitute took to turn a trick. Keeley supplied this kind of economic intelligence to Niederhoffer as he crisscrossed the globe.
In return, Niederhoffer offered Keeley glimpses of his world, giving him the podium at the Junto, his monthly libertarian confab in New York City; hosting him at his palatial Tudor country estate; and, one year, inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner with George Soros at the Four Seasons. (Soros had enlisted Niederhoffer to manage hundreds of millions of dollars on his behalf; on the wall of his study, Niederhoffer keeps a painting of a red-Speedo-clad Soros greeting him on a beach.)
Then, in the late 1980s, he gave Keeley a new assignment: Travel the developing world, gathering materials for his collection of Titanic artifacts—and doling out cash to entrepreneurs, in return for 15 percent of any returns. Keeley's plans hit a snag in Caracas, when he was almost slashed with a machete at a Chinese restaurant; the assailants took the money pouch he kept around his neck, the emergency wad sewed into his pants, and another stash in his back pocket. (Points on the Catman scale: four.) "You never have any desire for them, but they always happen," Keeley says of his near-death experiences. The investor let him convalesce in a basement closet in his mansion, and then dispatched him on a new assignment: to travel to nine Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian nations, "investigate the state of the negative psychology of the country," and report back. Relying on Keeley's analysis of rickshaw tires and cockroaches, in 1997, Niederhoffer invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Thailand.
In July of that year, his Thai holdings lost 90 percent of their value. Shortly after the fall, Niederhoffer sat for an interview with a Japanese film crew. You can watch it now, if you want a glimpse of a man broken cleanly in half. In shorts and a sweatshirt, he takes the crew on a tour of his mansion, empty of many of the rare books and trophies that marked his opulent heyday. He looks as if he's witnessed an unspeakable crime.
"How much did you lose?" the cameraman asks. On his sofa, Niederhoffer fidgets, pauses. Two seconds, three. "A staggering amount. A staggering amount. It's too horrible touhuhto tell. But less than $100 million and well over $1 millionas they say in the US, somewhere between seven and nine fig-yuhz."
"And what happened?" the interviewer asks. Niederhoffer blinks. Clearly, without a pause, voice perfectly still.
Niederhoffer retreated to his basement, where he spent hours playing with a train set by the stairwell cupboard Keeley once called home. He's philosophical about the episode now. It was a mistake, yes. Hubris, sure. "In those days, we always wanted to be No. 1," he told TheNew Yorker's John Cassidy in a sympathetic 2007 profile, and he had matured some.
When I asked Niederhoffer for his thoughts on Keeley, he demurred—twisted a knife, even. "He is usually not very generous in his estimate of others unless they are psychics or martial arts experts," Niederhoffer emailed, referring to Hydrick. But what did it say about Niederhoffer that he bet his fortune on such a man? The truth is that Niederhoffer has a lot more in common with Keeley than just mismatched shoes and Ayn Rand (the speculator throws a party every year on her birthday and named his third daughter Rand). Niederhoffer was every bit the compulsive risk-taker the Catman was, every bit as disdainful of traditional ways, and every bit as confident in his capacity to outwit the system. He just played with a different kind of fire.
In time, Niederhoffer recovered, fell, and rose again. But the partnership was over. Keeley retreated to the desert, to the closest thing he has to a permanent residence: a trailer dropped into a 10-foot hole in the ground on the edge of California's Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range. Keeley calls it Scorpion's Crotch.
Southeastern California is one of the emptiest places on the American map, and for generations it has been a destination for people who like it that way.1 It's in the wastes of Imperial County that Christopher McCandless trained for his last march into the wild, and where an obsessive New Englander named Leonard Knight built a mountain of adobe and paint and dedicated it to God. These days, it's where smugglers work in peace and outcasts go to disappear.
Scorpion's Crotch is entirely off the grid, but about once every six months a stranger finds Keeley. It's usually someone who has read his hobo writings and perhaps is a little dissatisfied with the American Way, and thus will make the pilgrimage down a sand-swept road in 110-degree heat to begin an adventure to be determined. Occasionally, Keeley's hobo executives will drop by too. Tyde was so enthralled with the Keeley lifestyle he nearly bought a parched patch of land for himself. When he wanted to get in touch, he used to hop in a small plane and drop leaflets on Keeley's property.
There's something very Galt's Gulch about the place, and when I raised this with Keeley, he confesses: Atlas Shrugged, he believes, is "hermetically perfect" because Ayn Rand wrote it without editors. Outside of pensions, a main source of income in the area is the United States military, which drops hundreds of tons of live ordnance on the Chocolates every year. When the bombing ceases, scrappers head into the mountains in dune buggies or armor-plated Volkswagen Beetles. Scrapping on a bombing range can lead to a year's sentence if you're caught—and an untold number of people have been killed or maimed—but a ton of brass or aluminum can go for $2,000 at the metal recycling center in San Diego.
Though Niederhoffer had chosen to rebuild his business without Keeley after the Thai collapse, he hadn't cast him out of the libertarian financial clique entirely. Keeley continued to post regularly on Niederhoffer's website, Daily Speculations, and his executive tour service was born in 2001, after he announced there that he was planning on riding the rails to Eris, the then-annual Aspen get-together hosted by the anarcho-capitalist Doug Casey (guests have included Ron Paul and the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver), and would anyone like to come? Keeley promised an "Outward Bound" experience, except instead of paying a few thousand dollars, he asked only that executives cover their own overhead.
"Bo's very strict about that: You don't pay him, ever," says Nathan Janos, a data scientist from Santa Monica who caught a freight with Keeley after reading about him in the New Yorker article about Niederhoffer. In time, the list of "executives" who have taken the Keeley challenge have included a medical-device manufacturer; Tyde, the software guru; a New York real estate manager; a Toronto stockbroker; a San Diego therapist; a Florida geologist; and an emergency services coordinator for San Mateo County, California.
We completed ourfinal prep work in the Orange County backyard of Steve Klett, the medical-device exec who once freight-hopped with Keeley to Tucson. I was beginning to get used to my traveling partner's idiosyncrasies. He walks sideways down stairs, and glacially so, on account of the five-pound ankle weights on each leg, with his eyes sometimes closed and head tilted up like a turtle in the sun. He doesn't wear underwear, a fact he volunteers freely.
As we enjoyed our final moments of suburban calm, I jettisoned a few books to make way for Keeley's gift to me—a laminated zine, held together with a paper clip, called From Birmingham to Wendover: An Alternative Travel Guide to Cool Camping Places and Obscure Urban Hiking Trails Throughout the United States and Canada. The title is euphemistic; it's a guide to railroad yards, instructing the reader on where and when trains will stop to change their crews, how tightly they're policed, and even the location of old-fashioned diners. Passed underground from one trusted hand to another in hushed sort of tones, the zine is coveted by tramps in the way aficionados hunt certain kinds of bourbon. Its author is an almost mythical figure, a sort of hobo Santa. Keeley speaks of him with a reverence other people reserve for Keeley.
The rise of the executive hoboes marks a shift in Americans' relationship with the iron road. At the turn of the last century, tramps attended "hobo colleges," to learn philosophy and hygiene, and joined hobo unions, to ensure peaceful relationships with the railways. Early hoboes didn't think of trains the way we think of cars, as something private; they thought of trains the way we think of highways, something to which everyone had a right. Ridership peaked during the Great Depression, when hundreds of thousands of workers camped in boxcars or squeezed between the wheels of rolling trains in search of work. But over the last 50 years, that transportation network has been remade. Trains are faster and harder to board. Boxcars are all but obsolete, and the post-9/11 security clampdown made rail yards harder to access.
The hoboes are different too. In 1998, Congress investigated the problem of railroad fatalities, and Jolene Molitoris, chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, suggested the high numbers of deaths stemmed from "the glamorization of hoboing." The unemployed no longer ride freights from city to city, for the most part, although certain harvests, like potatoes and sugar beets, still attract migrant workers. Now it's kids—anarchists, punks, or just homeless—and what Keeley calls "plastic people"—white dudes with cellphones and police scanners and credit cards who hit the road for a good time. That is, tramps like us.2
Klett drove us to Colton, about 60 miles outside of LA, rehashing his journey with Keeley the entire way and sounding for all the world as if he wanted to come with us, but for the job and the fiancee. We got out at a gas station, walked past a hobo encampment of young folks with dogs, and meandered down an overpass on the fringes of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad yard until we found ourselves in the humming, floodlit canyon between the trains. In a yard, Keeley is always looking to keep moving, hopping over and occasionally under containers, oil tankers, and gondolas to find the quickest and most comfortable ride. This can be exhausting, maddening even—especially after Keeley confesses this routine is partly for exercise.
At last we climbed into the front lip of a grain hopper, an upside-down trapezoid with sheltered cubbies at both ends, and somehow, amid the wheezing, screeching breaths of the mechanical beast, I drifted off. I awoke with a jolt as the train lurched forward, bracing myself with every track switch, curling tighter against the metal frames past every lit-up checkpoint I was sure would give us away. That first departure felt, I was sure, as close as one could get to reliving the ending of Argo. The train rattled through the suburbs and exurbs of the Inland Empire in the cool of dawn, and came to a final rest along a sandy wash 45 miles into the Mojave. We'd made it to Barstow.
Security is especially tight here because of the high quantities of military supplies that pass through. Janos, the MIT-educated data scientist, called his trip to Barstow with Keeley "the most intense experience I've had literally my whole life," as they dodged bulls in jeeps with "infrared cameras and all that shit."
We stalked the yard for hours, hiding out in groves of eucalyptus trees and walking for miles in 95-degree heat with 30-pound packs on our backs. It all seemed to come so easily to Keeley in his writings, but he had transformed into a hobo Patton in the desert, leading us on a cheerless series of false starts that felt more and more like training exercises. When our luck finally looked like it was beginning to turn, we got caught. "They've had me chasing you guys all day," said the private security guard, not much older than 20, who nabbed us. He told us to walk a mile down the track, past the end of the yard, and catch a train on the fly by the Amtrak station like good hoboes—advice we promptly ignored. After walking parallel to the yard through sand dunes in the open sun, we shimmied under a small hole in the fence and back into the yard. The first train we boarded—the one I disembarked face-first—was headed in the wrong direction. The second one got us out.
For a moment, as our train rattled through the Mojave National Preserve, past the dancing shadows of Joshua trees and desert scrub, it clicked. We had outmaneuvered a yard full of bulls, dodged death, and now even the sun was on our side. But before long, the majesty gave way to the monotony of being trapped aboard a five-foot-long flatbed platform, fingers cramping up from clutching the latch of a shipping container to guard against sudden stops, our bodies weary and dehydrated. The train paused by the Colorado River around midnight and we stepped off. I was desperate for the bottle of Gatorade at the bottom of my pack, but Keeley barked to keep moving. Back on gravel for only a moment, we walked quickly up the train in search of a car with a platform deep enough to safely spend the night, climbed aboard, and were off once more. Nothing happens and then it happens so fast.
The next day found us idling through mountain meadows outside Flagstaff, pausing for anywhere from two minutes to two hours to let faster trains pass, or to switch crews, or for track maintenance, or, Keeley suggested more than once, because someone called us in. We inched across Arizona and the Malpas, nearly 100 miles of black volcanic rock that flows across the landscape like a river from hell, finally rejoining civilization 40 miles south of Albuquerque in a place called Belen. Where's distilled water when you need it? I was out of provisions, and I was traveling with Boxcar Bear Grylls; if I didn't speak up, we might never get off. When the train slowed to a stop, we made our escape. We climbed over a barbed-wire fence and eventually emerged at a Valero.
Keeley is an expert at adapting to unusual circumstances, but never fully groks normal ones. He insisted on staggering our entrance into the gas station, purportedly so as not to draw attention to ourselves, but stood out so much as he waited outside that a woman drove to McDonald's and back just to bring him a bag of burgers. The stops at Willy's and Sally's, I was quickly realizing, were never going to happen at the breakneck pace we'd set, but we'd entered into a different world anyhow. Keeley had money but accepted the Big Macs gratefully, and the woman turned to me: "Would you like some too?" (I declined.)
The next three days were a slow descent into purgatory. We jumped on a piggyback—a flatbed car with a semi-truck on top of it—unsure of where we'd end up. The good news was that it was a hotshot, meaning it held high-priority cargo that other trains would have to make way for. We awoke in Clovis, New Mexico, passed Amarillo and Fort Worth, and crossed the Red River. The lights of Oklahoma City flickered by that night, as Keeley snored like a broken garbage disposal. Our relationship had frayed—conversation is difficult on a screeching train, earplugs are essential, and there was little I could do or say without falling victim to the Catman's chronic second-guessing; he even refused to believe the Google map I consulted for our precise location. On Tuesday, I realized I'd only eaten four pieces of beef jerky since Sunday. Given the lack of a proper latrine, maybe this was for the best.
I'd reached my breaking point by Kansas City and prepared to make my exit. But the yards become more militarized the farther east you go, and this one felt like Normandy. Our options were to jump out of the train as it rolled and hope for an exit, or to get off when it stopped and almost certainly get caught. I had no outstanding warrants; a $200 fine seemed like a small price to pay to get a motel and shower up. Keeley wanted to keep going. Why waste money on a flight when you had a hotshot?
I'd learn that I wasn't the only one to be worn down by Keeley's proudly authoritarian approach. Tom Dyson, a British financial analyst who has ridden trains with Keeley in Mexico, Canada, and the United States, recalled that after wading across the Rio Grande to Texas, he had sought out a gas station to make a phone call to his wife. Keeley, "cranky as shit," gave him five minutes, watched as he made the call, and when Dyson went over the allotted time, left him behind. "Bo's just a weird guy, and I think he just understands things differently from other people," he says.
Across Missouri, the lightning flashed brilliantly in the distance for hours, and when the skies finally opened up around midnight, sheets of rain pelted our car at 60 mph. The bivy sack wouldn't close, and I began to panic. There was nowhere to get off, no way to stop, no way to ward off hypothermia except going fetal and praying for dawn. I thought back to what Steve Klett told me about his journey with Keeley, as we sat in his backyard just before I embarked on mine: "I've never been so out of control."
Five days after we caught out of Colton, our ride terminated in a Chicagoland trucking distribution center called Willow Springs, and this time I led us out of the yard, past a smiling track worker, down a ravine, and across a four-lane road to a Dunkin' Donuts, where we left puddles on the floor and Keeley bought a plane ticket on my phone. I paid for a cab to the airport and he answered my questions on the way, with a patience and charm I hadn't seen since we embarked. He could flip that switch so quickly. "I'm going to Iquitos [Peru] and then, in September, to Baja," he announced. For part of the last decade he has dreamed of extending the Pacific Crest Trail, which meanders down the Cascades and the Sierras, south through Baja to Cabo San Lucas. He had almost finished mapping it out: "I call it the Baja Loop." When Keeley's flight was called, he gave a firm handshake and a grin. My jump from the moving train in Barstow, he told me before he left, was worth one Catman point.
George Meegan, the British adventurer most famous for walking 19,000 miles from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Ocean in the late 1970s, was sitting by the river in Iquitos, Peru, one sweltering night a couple of years ago when Keeley introduced himself and began to quiz him about the Darien Gap, an impenetrable tangle of swampy jungle that has thwarted land travel across Panama for centuries. Meegan compares Keeley to another Iquitos transplant, the real-life adventurer of the Werner Herzog epic Fitzcarraldo, who once transported a steamship over a mountain while exploring the Peruvian Amazon, before dying on the river at 35. "I rather think, Mr. Murphy, that he and I harken back to a previous age," Meegan said. This, I discovered, was a common theme among those who associate with Keeley—the sense that they've lucked into an adventure with a work of historical fiction.
And I have to admit, seeing the West from the platform of a container car had its moments: There are things you can't see any other way—graves of railroad workers in tall mountain meadows on century-old rights of way—and experiences that toughen you up psychologically. But there was something voyeuristic—even for a journalist—about tramping through hobo jungles hoping to catch a glimpse of an alcoholic or band of punks, dropping in on their world with a camera and a notepad as if I were after the snow leopard. "Are you familiar with Burning Man at all?" Tyde asked. "There are people who go to Burning Man because they want the experience, and then you've got like millionaire tourists who go because they can. I put that all in the same bucket. There are privileged people that go and do stupid things for the thrill of it, and I'm not really a fan of that." His analogy surprised me because Tyde is a millionaire tourist; his most recent Facebook post, as of this writing, lamented the lack of wifi at this past summer's Burning Man festival.
Keeley's friends, many of whom go decades in between visits, press me for details when I tell them where I've been, and live vicariously through his exploits. It wasn't necessary for the executives to live their entire lives as he did, to go Galt in one of the continent's least hospitable places. It was enough for them to know that he had and they could. Meanwhile, they honored his ethos in small ways. Steve Klett, the medical-device VP, proposed to his girlfriend at a Mojave ghost town Keeley had first shown him. "He's always in the back of my mind—always," says Nathan Janos, who at Keeley's advice turned down a six-figure salary and plans to travel around the world next year. "I hope he's there for you too."
A few weeks after we'd parted, Keeley had arrived in Puerto Maldonado on the Bolivian border and, about six months after being evacuated from the Peruvian jungle, began planning a new expedition up the continent with a "hoboette" named Boxcar Emily. Then he planned to return once more to Guatemala, for a ferry over the Usumacinta and a train ride north with the fall migration on La Bestia. "I was given a clean bill of health," he wrote, "to walk the trails and hobo the Amazon tributaries."
In the meantime, if I could convince my editors to send me to Peru, he had a story for me. One of the world's largest gathering of shamans was coming to Iquitos, and Keeley promised to put me in touch with a man he called "the Johnny Appleseed of ahahuasca [sic]"—the psychedelic elixir best known for producing spiritual revelations and extreme fits of vomiting. The town was cheap and "full of riches for the curious gringo." I politely declined.
Former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is running for president. (Maybe.) But just how much does he have in common with his brother, George W.? His Twitter page might offer a clue. The first human Jeb followed on Twitter was none other than his brother's former deputy chief of staff—Fox News analyst Karl Rove. So is the Oracle of Ohio going to be back in the fold come 2016? We can only hold our breath. Or perhaps Jeb just likes Rove's engaging Twitter personality. (Full disclosure: the first person I followed on Twitter was Chuck Grassley.)
"You may decide, for instance, what many people on the left and the right think—that I'm a sociopath and blah blah blah," says Charles C. Johnson. Peter Duke
Update, 5/26/2015: On Monday, Twitter permanently suspended Chuck Johnson’s Twitter account, as well as another account, @citizentrolling, he set up in response to the initial suspension. The suspension came in response to a tweet Johnson sent out asking for help “taking out” activist civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. (Johnson has said he was merely referring to his reporting and was not making a physical threat.) You can read his lawyer’s letter to Twitter demanding immediate reinstatement here. Read the original piece below:
Hours before I was due to hop in a rental car to drive to his home last week, Charles C. Johnson laid down a new ground rule: He would talk only if I promised not to mention he lived in Fresno. The internet was full of crazy people, after all.
We'd originally arranged to meet weeks before he launched a one-man crusade to out "Jackie," the woman at the heart of Rolling Stone's flawed investigation into campus rape at the University of Virginia. There were already many other examples of his antagonistic brand of online dirt-flinging to discuss. Johnson, a tireless self-promoter, seemed eager to speak—or spar—face-to-face; he even offered to let me stay at his place in California. Now he was asking for privacy.
It was an odd request, considering that the Washington Post had just reported where Johnson lived and his location was posted on his Twitter page at the time. Not to mention that he had recently published the home addresses of two New York Times reporters and he'd just spent two days gleefully airing personal information about a woman he'd never met. ("I'm giving Jackie until later tonight to tell the truth and then I'm going to start revealing everything about her past," he'd taunted her on Twitter.) Johnson was asking for a degree of respect that he relishes in denying others.
I didn't agree to Johnson's ground rule, but he agreed to see me anyway. After five hours in the car, I arrived at my motel to find a fresh set of emails. We could talk, but only if we didn't go anywhere near his house. On second thought, we couldn't meet in person at all—he'd traipsed off to LA for some meetings and was planning on staying for another day to do a TV interview. I'd already rearranged my flights after he had forgotten I was coming. Now I'd been snubbed for Larry King.
Here's the most sobering statistic you'll see today: American-Indian and Alaskan Native children experience PTSD at the same rate at veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a new report from a Department of Justice advisory committee, 22 percent of American-Indian and Alaskan Native juveniles have PTSD—three times higher than the national rate. Among other proposals, the committee recommends Congress grant tribes the ability to prosecute non-Indians who abuse children. Under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Congress empowered tribes to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence, but left other crimes, like sexual abuse, untouched.
President Barack Obama, who has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Grover Cleveland, issued a set of directives this week to protect 5 million undocumented residents from deportation. The new executive actions will allow undocumented parents of US citizens to stay in the country, and allow children who were brought to the United States by their parents to apply for employment visas. It also, according to various Republican critics, cements Obama's status as a dictator, a king, an emperor, and maybe even a maniac bent on ethnic cleansing:
Obama is a king. "The president acts like he's a king," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said. "He ignores the Constitution. He arrogantly says, 'If Congress will not act, then I must.' These are not the words of a great leader. These are the words that sound more like the exclamations of an autocrat."
This will lead to anarchy. "The country's going to go nuts, because they're going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it's going to be a very serious situation," retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told USA Today. "You're going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. ... You could see violence."
He could go to jail. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told Slate that the president might be committing a felony: "At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America. That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it."
Is ethnic cleansing next? When asked by a talk-radio called on Thursday if the new executive actions would lead to "ethnic cleansing," Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach said it just might:
What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course. And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a President who disregards the law when it suits his interests. And, so, you know, while I normally would answer that by saying, 'Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,' I wonder what could happen. I still don't think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, that things are, things are strange and they're happening.
Kobach is hardly a fringe figure. He was the architect of the self-deportation strategy at the core some of the nation's harshest immigration laws.
The Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., the morning after an explosion killed 29 workers.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for allegedly conspiring to violate mine safety standards in the run-up to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch Mine. The four-count indictment describes a culture of negligence under Blankenship's watch, in which essential safety measures were ignored as the company sought to squeeze every last cent out of the ground. Blankenship, who left Massey in 2010, pleaded not guilty Thursday.
But the indictment also came as a sobering reminder: In the four years since the disaster, little has been done to make the mining industry safer. Legislation designed to rein in the worst offenders and give regulators teeth was beaten back by big business. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars in safety fines have gone uncollected.
"We've taken some actions after the various accidents that have taken place, but unfortunately, Congress can apparently only legislate in this area after someone dies," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who sponsored mine-safety legislation in the wake of the Upper Big Branch explosion.
"I've been there after the accidents, I've been standing with many of these politicians—they all pledge they're gonna do something for the families, that they care about the miners. And then everybody goes back to business as usual."