Political MoJo

The Pentagon Just Realized It Gave Too Much Military Equipment to the Ferguson Police

But Ferguson still has plenty of combat gear to go around.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 2:54 PM EDT

As new clashes between the police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, revive concerns about the growing use of military-type gear by local cops, the Pentagon has ordered Ferguson to return two Humvees that came straight off the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.

But it's not because of the way Ferguson police officers have responded to the demonstrators, government officials say; it's a paperwork issue.

The Guardian, which broke the story, reports that the government is repossessing the vehicles because Missouri's state coordinator for the Pentagon's controversial 1033 program gave Ferguson four Humvees when it was only authorized to give two.

Established in the 1990s, the 1033 program has stocked local police arsenals with $5.6 billion in combat equipment left over from two foreign wars. Protests in Ferguson over the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, thrust the program into the spotlight last summer after officers responded to the demonstrators with a militarized show of force, including mine-resistant vehicles, combat-style assault rifles, and gas masks.

At protests to mark the one-year anniversary of Brown's killing, the police show of force has been only a little less aggressive.

Civil liberties advocates have called for curtailing or ending the program, and for cutting off other, larger funding streams that help local cops buy combat equipment as a way to strengthen the line between the police and soldiers. But the Pentagon's move to take away two war-ready Humvees does not demilitarize Ferguson's police force. Ferguson acquired four Humvees through the 1033 program; the Pentagon is only forcing the return of two vehicles. And the Pentagon is not suspending or expelling the city of Ferguson from the 1033 program, the Guardian reports.

What's more, officers are streaming into the community from law enforcement agencies all over St. Louis County, bringing with them their own departments' combat gear.

The Obama administration has announced several changes to the controversial 1033 program since the chaos of last year. Civil rights advocates hope a new White House requirement—for police departments to receive community approval before acquiring armored tactical vehicles—will stanch the flow of some of the most intimidating vehicles. Mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks, for example, are routinely made available through the program.

But the changes do not apply to weapons, equipment, and vehicles that are already in police armories across the country. And as Radley Balko, the top reporter covering police militarization today, noted in the Washington Post last year, very little of Ferguson's military-type vehicles, assault weapons, and protective gear actually came from the 1033 program:

Most of the militarization today happens outside the 1033 Program. As the Heritage Foundation reported last year, few of the weapons we saw in those iconic images coming out of Ferguson were obtained through 1033. That program created the thirst for militarization, but police agencies can now quench that thirst elsewhere. Since 2003, for example, the Department of Homeland Security has been giving grants to police departments around the country to purchase new military-grade gear. That program now dwarfs the 1033 Program. It has also given rise to a cottage industry of companies that build gear in exchange for those DHS checks.

Communities that decide on their own to get rid of equipment from the 1033 program often have a lot of trouble doing so. The Pentagon technically has a process for returning unwanted equipment. But in reality, as I reported last year, police departments across the country have found that the process doesn't always work.

Online law enforcement message boards brim with complaints that the Pentagon refuses to take back unwanted guns and vehicles—like this one, about a pair of M14 rifles that have survived attempts by two sheriffs to get rid of them.

"The federal government is just not interested in getting this stuff back," says Davis Trimmer, a lieutenant with the Hillsborough, North Carolina, police department. Local law enforcement officials and Pentagon liaisons interviewed by Mother Jones all agree that the Defense Department always prefers to keep working equipment in circulation over warehousing it. Trimmer has twice requested permission to return three M14 rifles that are too heavy for practical use. But the North Carolina point person for the Pentagon insists that Hillsborough can't get rid of the firearms until another police department volunteers to take them. Police in Woodfin, North Carolina, are facing the same problem as they try to return the town's grenade launcher.

Ultimately, the police and sheriffs have found, the easiest way to offload their combat gear is to transfer it to another local law enforcement agency—an option that obviously troubles local officials who wish to get rid of the gear on principle.

In fact, the Pentagon has already said the two extra Ferguson Humvees may go to another police department in Missouri. And they could end up with one of the many departments sending officers and equipment to the scene of these protests—meaning these very same vehicles could roam the streets of Ferguson once again.

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Massive Explosions Hit Tianjin

Initial reports say the blast was caused by inflammables at the container terminal.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

Update, August 14, 2015, 4:38 p.m. EST: Reports say 700 tons of cyanide was stored at the Rui Hai warehouse where the fire began. The death toll has climbed to at least 56 deaths.

Update, August 13, 2015, 8:00 a.m. EST: At least 50 deaths and more than 700 people wounded have been confirmed.

A large series of explosions erupted in the city of Tianjin, China, one of the country's largest industrial and shipping centers, around 11:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday. Initial reports from state-run media indicate the blast was accidental and caused by "explosive material in a container."

Images and footage of the explosions have been posted on social media and shared below:

Roughly 90 miles from Beijing, Tianjin is the fourth largest city in China and has a population of over 7 million people. One state-run media estimated 300 to 400 people have been hospitalized.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as news develops.

Donald Trump Calls Bernie Sanders "Weak" for Sharing Stage With Black Activists

Trump promises to never cede control of the mic.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 12:57 PM EDT

At a press conference in Birch Run, Michigan, on Tuesday, Donald Trump weighed in on the widely discussed interruption of an appearance by Sen. Bernie Sanders by two black activists last Saturday.

"That showed such weakness," Trump said. "The way he was taken away by two young women—the microphone—they just took the whole place over."

Sanders was campaigning in Seattle when he was interrupted by activists who took control of the stage and the microphone and demanded that people who care about Black Lives Matter also hold the Vermont senator "specifically accountable for his actions." Sanders left the stage without delivering his planned speech.

This is the second time that Black Lives Matter activists have disrupted a Sanders event. Sanders was first disrupted at a Netroots Nation conference in mid-July, as was fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley.

Trump, however, promised that such a spectacle would never occur at any of his events, even hinting that he would resort to violence if necessary.

"That will never happen with me," Trump said. "I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or if others will, but that was a disgrace."

 

Bernie Sanders Is Now Leading in New Hampshire

Stay calm.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 10:46 AM EDT

Mark it down. August 11, 2015: the day Bernie Sanders led Hillary Clinton in an early primary state for the first time.

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.

Are Your Food Ads Racist?

A new study finds that junk food ads disproportionately target black and Hispanic children.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Junk food companies are spending a disproportionately high percentage of their marketing budgets on ads for black-targeted television channels, according to a new study from the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Spanish-language television is also a draw for junk food companies, although to a lesser degree overall.

The study defines black-targeted TV channels as those with a "high proportion of black individuals in the audience and/or whose ads were viewed disproportionately more by black teens relative to white teens." The contrast is stunning: Black children see at least twice as many ads for sweets and sodas compared with white children.

Check out the results in the infographics below, and to see the full results of the study, click here.

infographic
University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
infographic
University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

 

Jeb Bush Just Helped This Dude Make the Worst Mistake of His Life

#Jeb4Prez is not a good look.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 5:44 PM EDT

A Pennsylvania man with a strong devotion to Jeb Bush and bizarre viral videos just got the Republican presidential candidate's name tattooed on his neck.

Vic Berger's new ink job is the result of an internet promise he made in July, pledging to go through with the tattoo no one asked for once a Vine he created attracted one million loops.

 

Upon learning of Berger's tattoo goals, Bush actually took to Twitter to encourage followers to help turn this unfortunate stunt into an indelible reality.

Let's just hope Berger's tattoo is a lame temporary one.

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Meet the (Potential) Democratic Candidate Who Thinks Bernie Sanders Isn't Liberal Enough

Harvard's Larry Lessig is exploring a presidential bid. His platform is pretty unique.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

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.

Here's Lessig's announcement video:

Heavily Armed Oath Keepers Showed Up to Ferguson Last Night

The "patriots" were seen carrying assault rifles in the streets.

| Tue Aug. 11, 2015 9:30 AM EDT

As demonstrators gathered in Ferguson to continue commemorating the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown on Monday, five heavily armed men belonging to a vigilante group called the Oath Keepers were spotted patrolling the streets. According to reports, the Oath Keepers said they were on the scene to provide voluntary protection to a journalist working for the site InfoWarsthe conspiracy mill run by noted lunatic Alex Jones.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called the group's presence on Monday both "unnecessary and inflammatory."

Their arrival came amid 23 arrests last night. The police said those arrested in the largely peaceful protests were throwing bottles at law enforcement officials and "unlawfully assembled."

During the same time last year, Oath Keeper members took it upon themselves to guard the city's rooftops with assault rifles. Police officials eventually ordered the group to leave, saying their presence was inciting fear and suspicion in an already tense situation. However, no members were arrested.

The mysterious group, who called themselves voluntary "patriots," primarily consists of heavily armed white men dressed in military uniforms. Many of them are former soldiers and police officials. For more on who they are, read our in-depth investigation, "Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason."

#BlackLivesMatter Activists Arrested in Ferguson Anniversary Protests

St. Louis has declared a state of emergency.

| Mon Aug. 10, 2015 3:37 PM EDT

A day after the city of Ferguson marked the first anniversary of the fatal police shooting that killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, nonviolent demonstrators, including activist and philosopher Cornel West and Black Lives Matter organizer Johnetta Elzie, were arrested in St. Louis. Demonstrators were seen jumping over police barricades outside a federal courthouse during a planned sit-in protest demanding the suspension of the Ferguson police department.

According to MSNBC, demonstrators joined the #MoralMonday sit-in expecting to be arrested. Shortly before getting apprehended, Elzie tweeted a reference to the arrest of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody last month:

 

The arrests come just hours after St. Louis County issued a state of emergency in light of the violence that erupted late Sunday night after a police officer shot a man they say opened fire at them. Police charged 18-year-old Tyrone Harris with four counts of assault on law enforcement and other crimes. He remains in critical condition.

The shooting ended a weekend of largely peaceful protests commemorating Brown's death.

You Can't Unsee This Video of Donald Trump Groping Rudy Giuliani

"Oh, you dirty boy!"

| Mon Aug. 10, 2015 12:46 PM EDT

Donald Trump has long had a boorish reputation when it comes to his treatment of women, something that is now back in the spotlight thanks to the real estate mogul's tense exchange with Megyn Kelly at Thursday's GOP debate and subsequent tirade against the Fox News host.

It turns out that even Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, who recently termed Trump's candidacy "refreshing," once called out The Donald for his loutish behavior. Of course, Giuliani, then New York's mayor, was also dressed in drag at the time and was appearing with Trump in a skit filmed for the Inner Circle press dinner in 2000. In the clip, Trump full-on gropes Giuliani, who exclaims, "Oh, you dirty boy," and slaps the tycoon. Warning: You can't unsee this.