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I Was There When an Undercover Cop Pulled a Gun on Unarmed Protesters in Oakland. Here's How It Happened.

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 7:12 PM EST

Over the past 24 hours, photos showing a plainclothes police officer pulling a gun on unarmed protesters in Oakland have gone viral. Tens of thousands of people, and news outlets like Gawker, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and NBC have shared them, often including outraged comments. But there have been few accounts of what exactly happened, and how the incident came to pass.

I was one of the few reporters with the protesters at that point, around 11:30 p.m., and what I saw may add some useful context.

The protest was the latest in a series that have filled the streets of Berkeley and Oakland in the past couple of weeks in response to the lack of indictments for the officers who had killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner. (I covered most of them via Twitter.) Marchers generally remained peaceful. Sometimes they overtook highways and blocked intersections. Parents pushed strollers, students kept stride with older marchers, and people from all across the Bay Area joined in. But there was also infighting among the crowds, and breakaway factions looted stores, smashed windows, and burned trash cans. Police officers responded with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and fired non-lethal bullets*, and their actions were often met with outrage.

Protesters run after police set off flashbang grenades in Oakland, Calif. Gabrielle Canon

Wednesday night seemed as if it was going to end differently. Organizers with hoarse voices rallied the crowd of some 150 with updates on the movement that they said was building across the country. They presented a petition listing demands, including for Darren Wilson to be indicted and protesters who'd been arrested to be released without charges. Starting at the Berkeley campus, the group marched peacefully toward Oakland as a rainstorm approached.

A little girl rides along on her stroller, chanting in a march last week. Gabrielle Canon

About 10:30 p.m., a small group from within the march broke windows at a T-Mobile store and smashed Bank Of America ATMs. Protesters blocked photographers documenting the violence, pushing us and putting their hands in front of lenses.

Marching floods into the streets in Berkeley, CA early on Wednesday night Gabrielle Canon

Shortly after this, police presence increased. Squad cars and white vans full of officers followed the march slowly as announcements rang out over a police intercom informing protesters that police were there for their protection and that their right to demonstrate was being respected. They also warned that any vandalism or violence would lead to citation or arrest.

According to reporter David DeBolt, writing for Inside Bay Area, officials say it was then that two undercover officers joined the march, both wearing dark handkerchiefs and hoods that covered their faces. I had not seen them earlier, and they did not appear in any of the photos I took.

A marcher does a different take on "Hands up don't shoot" Gabrielle Canon

Suddenly, behind me, someone started to yell. A protester had discovered the undercover cops and shouted an alarm. Others began to join in, calling them pigs and telling them to go home. The two men passed me in silence, at a hurried pace. Suddenly, a scuffle erupted as one protester attempted to pull off one of the officer's hoods. The officer tackled someone involved, and was quickly surrounded by a small crowd and kicked from several directions while on the ground. (That officer, who was African American, is who you see in the ground in the photo above.) The other officer stepped in front of his partner and brandished a baton. When the crowd did not back up he drew his gun, pointing at protesters and photographers. Moments later, police flooded the area, scattering marchers and blocking others, as the undercover officers arrested the man who had been tackled in the skirmish.

Protester in Oakland, CA Gabrielle Canon

DeBolt reports the undercover officers were later identified as members of California Highway Patrol, assigned to follow the march on foot. They had been following in a vehicle providing information to stop protesters from blocking highways. Officials said in a press conference that the agency is investigating the incident, but believes the officers did what was necessary to protect themselves. They said that undercover cops had been deployed in prior protests and would be again, and that Twitter accounts had also been used to gather information.

The incident and photo have sparked anger and questions about police tactics in crowd control. Protesters are expected to resume marching over the weekend throughout the Bay Area and I will send out updates on Twitter as events unfold.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the location from which nonlethal bullets were fired. The language has been changed to fix the error.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 12 December 2014

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 2:55 PM EST

Last week, Hilbert got catblogging all to himself. This week it's Hopper's turn. Marian took this picture of Hopper gazing out the kitchen window with the bird bath in the background—and that's no coincidence. The bird bath and the hummingbird feeders are objects of endless fascination.

In other news, I have a follow-up from last week. Now that he's taken its measure, it turns out that Hilbert can jump onto the fireplace mantle with ease. No furious runup necessary. However, it also turns out that having taken its measure, he's now bored with it. There's no challenge left, I guess. So the mantle is safe once again. Maybe. Until he gets bored. Welcome to kittenland.

Thanks to New Media, We All Have Box Seats at the Sausage Factory

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 2:25 PM EST

Brian Beutler writes today about the enormous amount of attention we've paid to the cromnibus spending bill this week:

Until the country came to be governed by serial brinksmanship, the writing and passage of annual spending bills weren’t huge stories in American politics, and you had to be unusually attuned to both the content and the process to understand the political currents underlying both. When problems arose, there was always the palliative of earmarks to smooth things over.

But the narrow passage Thursday night of a big spending bill in the House of Representatives brought everything to the surface, even though the risk of a government shutdown was near zero.

I think that's only part of the story. It's true that as recently as a decade ago, spending bills didn't have a big audience. Genuine insiders—aides, lobbyists, single-issue activists—paid attention to the minutiae, but most of us didn't. More to the point, most of us couldn't. Even if you were the kind of person who read TNR and National Review and Roll Call religiously, you just weren't going to be exposed to that much coverage.

This wasn't because budgets were more boring back then. Or because the political shenanigans were less egregious. It's because print publications didn't devote very much space to them. You'd get the basics, but that was it. And given the limitations of print production schedules, the drama of watching deals rise and fall on a daily or hourly basis simply wasn't possible in real time.

But the often maligned rise of blogs and Twitter, along with their new media offshoots, has created a whole new world. Over at Vox, for example, they ran nine pieces about the spending bill just yesterday. If you follow the right people, Twitter will keep you literally up to minute on even the smallest issues. Dozens of blogs will explain the policy implications of obscure provisions. Politico will flood the zone with pieces about conflicts and personalities as the fight unfolds.

By normal standards, the spending bill the House passed yesterday was fairly routine. But digital media turned it into High Noon and we all played along. We pretended that this was something uniquely shameless, when it wasn't. The sausage has always been made this way. The only difference is that now we all have box seats on the factory floor.

The Notorious Princeton Mom Thinks It's Only Rape If the Attacker Uses a Gun or a Knife

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 2:01 PM EST

Author Susan Patton, aka the "Princeton Mom," is jumping into the national discussion about campus sexual assault, telling CNN's Carol Costello that the current definition of rape has been warped into nebulous exaggeration.

"[It] is no longer when a woman is violated at the point of a gun or a knife," Patton explained. "We're now identifying as rape what really is a clumsy hookup melodrama or a fumbled attempt at a kiss or caress."

Patton's comments were prompted by a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that only one in ten sexual assault assailments use weapons and 80 percent of victims are familiar with their attackers. She basically depicts these situations as inebriated, bad choices between two friends, and nothing more.

Patton goes on to describe most assaults as "learning experiences" and wonders, "why do you not just get up and leave? Or why do you not, as a woman, tell a man who’s making advances that, ‘You know what? Stop, leave.’”

It's sad to say, but Patton's views are nothing out of the ordinary, despite the fact one in five undergraduate women experience sexual assault in college. But in light of the recent controversy ignited by Rolling Stone's UVA story and mounting rape allegations against Bill Cosby, Patton's opinions are especially obnoxious.

Watch and behold a perfect example of how not to talk about rape:

 

 

 

Chart of the Day: The World Has More Oil Than It Needs

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 12:28 PM EST

I don't have a lot to say about this, but I wanted to pass along this chart from Chris Mooney over at Wonkblog. Basically, it shows that although both supply and demand for oil have been roughly in sync for the past five years, demand abruptly dropped earlier this year and is projected to stay low next year. This is why prices have dropped so far: not because supply has skyrocketed thanks to fracking—the supply trendline is actually fairly smooth—but because the world is using less oil.

This is a short-term blip, and I don't want to make too much of it. Still, regular readers will remember that one of the biggest problems with oil isn't high prices per se. The world can actually get along OK with high oil prices. The problem is spikes in oil prices caused by sudden imbalances between supply and demand. Historically this wasn't a big problem because potential supply was much higher than demand. If demand went up, the Saudis and others just opened up the taps a bit and everything was back in balance.

But that hasn't been true for a while. There's very little excess capacity these days, so if oil supply drops due to war or natural disaster, it can result in a very sudden spike in prices. And that can lead to economic chaos. But if demand has fallen significantly below supply, it means we now have excess capacity again. And if we have excess capacity, it means that the price of oil can be managed. It will still go up and down, but it's less likely to unexpectedly spike upward. And this in turn means that, at least in the near future, oil is unlikely to derail the economic recovery. It's a small but meaningful piece of good news.

Here's What Democrats Got Out of the Cromnibus

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 10:30 AM EST

The worst part of the "cromnibus" spending bill was the provision that guts a small piece of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and allows banks to get back into the custom swaps business. So why did Democratic negotiators agree to this? In a long tick-tock published yesterday, Politico tells us:

During [] negotiations with House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), his Senate counterpart, agreed to keep the provision in exchange for more funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to aides.

OK. Democrats have been ambivalent about this particular provision of Dodd-Frank from the start, and therefore they were willing to cut a deal that allowed Republicans to repeal it. But what about the rest of the spending bill? Republicans got a bunch of venal little favors inserted, but what did Democrats get? Here's retiring Rep. Jim Moran:

In 20 years of being on the appropriations bill, I haven’t seen a better compromise in terms of Democratic priorities. Implementing the Affordable Care Act, there’s a lot more money for early-childhood development — the only priority that got cut was the EPA but we gave them more money than the administration asked for....There were 26 riders that were extreme and would have devastated the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of the Clean Water and Clean Air Act administration; all of those were dropped. There were only two that were kept and they wouldn’t have been implemented this fiscal year. So, we got virtually everything that the Democrats tried to get.

And here is President Obama:

The Administration appreciates the bipartisan effort to include full-year appropriations legislation for most Government functions that allows for planning and provides certainty, while making progress toward appropriately investing in economic growth and opportunity, and adequately funding national security requirements. The Administration also appreciates the authorities and funding provided to enhance the U.S. Government’s response to the Ebola epidemic, and to implement the Administration’s strategy to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well as investments for the President’s early education agenda, Pell Grants, the bipartisan Manufacturing Institutes initiative, and extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

What's the point of posting this laundry list? Curiosity. Last night a reader sent a tweet to me: "Honest question: what do progressives get out of this? 'Govt not shutting down' not enough." I was stumped. I really had no idea whether Democrats had gotten anything in this bill, or if they were just caving in to a whole bunch of obnoxious Republican demands merely in exchange for keeping the government funded.

But as it turns out, Democrats did get a bunch of stuff they wanted. And of course, that's in addition to getting the government funded before Republicans take over Congress in January, which is worthwhile all by itself. We can each decide for ourselves whether Democrats got enough, or if they should have held out for a better deal, but they weren't left empty-handed.

So what I'm curious about is this: why are virtually no Democrats talking about this? As near as I can tell, there was literally no attempt to sell this compromise to the base, or to anyone else. As a result, the general feeling among progressives is simple: this bill was an unqualified cave-in from gutless Democrats who, once again, refused to fight back against Republican hostage taking. And as usual, Republicans won.

I understand that trying to defend a messy, backroom bill that trades some dull but responsible victories for a bunch of horrible little giveaways isn't very appealing to anyone. And who knows? Maybe Democrats were afraid that if they crowed too much about the concessions they'd won it would just provoke the tea party wing of the Republican party and scuttle the bill. The tea partiers were already plenty pissed off about the cromnibus, after all.

Still, shouldn't someone have been in charge of quietly making the progressive case for this bill? It wouldn't have convinced everyone, but it might have reduced the grumbling within the base a little bit. Why was that not worth doing?

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Study Confirms What Your Mother Always Says About Your Father

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 10:10 AM EST

One day he's going to die doing something stupid:

A 20 year study of the Darwin Awards, an annual review of the most foolish ways people have died, found almost 90 per cent were 'won' by males.

Of the 318 valid cases remaining, 282 (88.7 per cent) were awarded to males and just 36 to females, a gender difference entirely consistent with male idiot theory (MIT) that states men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.

Writing in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, the researchers say it is puzzling that men are willing to take such unnecessary risks - simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem or solely in exchange for "bragging rights".

The study is tongue in cheek but to be honest it's not even really surprising. We're awful. I'm a man. I come from a long line of men. (My father was a man. His father was a man...) Some of my best friends are men! But men are awful. Women are awful, too, but, you know, less awful.

Torture Is Not a Hard Concept

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 11:06 PM EST

Like all of us, I've had to spend the past several days listening to a procession of stony-faced men—some of them defiant, others obviously nervous—grimly trying to defend the indefensible, and I'm not sure how much more I can take. How hard is this, after all? Following 9/11, we created an extensive and cold-blooded program designed to inflict severe pain on prisoners in order to break them and get them to talk. That's torture. It always has been, and even a ten-year-old recognizes that legalistic rationalizations about enemy combatants, "serious" physical injury, and organ failure are transparent sophistry. Of course we inflicted severe pain. Moderate pain would hardly induce anyone to talk, would it? And taking care not to leave permanent marks doesn't mean it's not torture, it just means you're trying to make sure you don't get caught.

Christ almighty. Either you think that state-sanctioned torture of prisoners is beyond the pale for a civilized country or you don't. No cavils. No resorts to textual parsing. And no exceptions for "we were scared." This isn't a gray area. You can choose to stand with history's torturers or you can choose to stand with human decency. Pick a side.

Here's How Much the Storm Is Helping California's Epic Drought

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 6:21 PM EST
People canoeing and kayaking in a flooded parking lot in Healdsburg, California.

In the midst of the most intense drought in hundreds of years, Northern California is being bombarded with rain (here are some crazy photos). In a state that produces roughly half of the country's fruits and veggies, the water is more than welcome. The storm is expected to dump 2-8 inches of water in the Bay Area, and 2-5 inches in Southern California. But California would need 18-21 more inches of rain over the next six months in order to make up for the drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The state usually gets about 23 inches of rain per year.

Check out the similarity between a drought intensity chart from two weeks ago, when California was still pretty dry, and two days ago, after several days of rain.

Compared with the levels two weeks ago, there's been a small but noticeable increase in the state's reservoir water; California's two largest reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, have both seen a three percent rise. The image below, updated on December 10th, compares how much California's reservoirs can hold (in yellow) with how much they're currently holding (in blue).

California Department of Water Resources

Some experts are worried that the rain will make people forget about the fact that California's still in a drought. "Thursday it'll rain, and people will say, 'Oh, I'm very excited,' and Saturday it'll rain, and 'Oh, drought’s over.' Not even close," Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with Public Policy Institute of California focused on water, told KQED. "This has been three consecutive years of extreme dryness, and that extreme dryness translates to much lower groundwater levels, and very dry soils. It’s going to take a lot of rain to break this drought."

Dozens of Staffers Just Walked Out of Congress. This Powerful Picture Shows Why.

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 3:55 PM EST

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of congressional staffers walked out in protest of the recent grand jury decisions failing to indict the two officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The result was an incredible display of solidarity, with staffers raising their hands in the air to invoke Brown's "hands up, don't shoot" image. See the photos below: