Political MoJo

The NRA Comes Out in Support of Warrior Cops

| Tue Oct. 28, 2014 5:00 AM EDT

The current issue of the National Rifle Association's American Warrior magazine just hit, and in it, the gun lobby comes out squarely in favor of warrior cops. An article titled, "If You Were a Cop, What Would You Drive?" opens with a photo of an armored personnel carrier-style vehicle juxtaposed with a Volkswagen van. Rick Stewart, the host of the NRA's Life of Duty Patriot Profile series, wonders, "Why should SWAT teams be forced to deploy in a glorified bread-truck?" (It is unclear why a hippie bus is the other alternative.)

NRA American Warrior

The NRA has long walked a delicate line between glorifying law enforcement and fanning fears of big, tyrannical government. In 1995, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre infamously wrote of "jack-booted government thugs" and "federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms," and he still routinely warns of imminent crackdowns on gun owners. As Stewart coyly acknowledges, "For many there is a certain Orwellian level of mistrust in government and law enforcement."

Yet the NRA is also a trade lobby for firearms manufacturers, which may explain its soft stance on the militarization of American police. As I detail in the current issue of Mother Jones, a multibillion dollar industry has sprung up to provide ever-bigger weapons and military-style equipment to law enforcement. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has given local police departments $41 billion to buy new gear.

This puts the NRA in a tricky position. Ever since the Ferguson protests, people from  all political persuasions have become wary of efforts like the Pentagon's 1033 program, which has transferred $5.1 billion worth of equipment to local law enforcement. Stewart's article makes the NRA's position on 1033 clear: "The program is not evil; it is responsible." He also defends the police's use of camouflaged battle dress "for tactical advantage," especially for those who "serve on the frontline of illegal activity along our southern border." It is "unconscionable," he maintains, to make cops wear their "everyday duty uniforms" in "extremely dangerous situations"—such as protests.

The American Warrior article depicts police as victims: "Nobody seems more 'targeted' these days than those who serve in law enforcement." Not the communities where SWAT teams are routinely deployed; not people of color, who are targeted in 71 percent of of SWAT raids even though whites are more likely to be active shooters or hostage takers. The fact is police work is safer than it's been in decades. Assaults on cops are down 45 percent since their peak in 1971. Violent crime has fallen by nearly half since 1991. 

The real problem, according to the article, is not police abuse or an over-hyped need for military-like equipment, but the words we use. Terms like "armor," automatic" and "assault vehicles" are improperly used to demonize law enforcement, writes Stewart. The other issue is some Americans' tendency to criticize police abuse: "In the long run, we don't need a 'knee-jerk' reaction to every use of force situation caught on camera."

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Duck Dynasty Guy's Ad for Duck Dynasty Candidate Is the Full Duck Dynasty

| Mon Oct. 27, 2014 5:19 PM EDT

Zach Dasher, a Republican businessman running for Congress in Louisiana's fifth district, has one major thing going for him: He's the nephew of Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan. And he appears to be squeezing everything he can out of the connection. In a new ad, Robertson, who was suspended by A&E last year over comments he made in a GQ interview on homosexuality and race, holds up a Bible and a rifle, as an acoustic version of "Amazing Grace" plays in the background. "Hey, Louisiana," Robertson says. "Bibles and guns brought us here. And Bibles and guns will keep us here. Zach Dasher believes in both. That's why I'm voting for him."

The ad's content isn't much of a surprise. Dasher has made his faith (and Duck Dynasty ties) a central part of his campaign, has said godlessness is driving America toward "tyranny and death," and worries that the term "YOLO" encourages atheism by discounting the idea of an afterlife. Robertson has also raised money for Dasher, at one fundraiser referring to the candidate as "my little nephew who came from the loins of my sister."

Ahead of a special election for the seat in 2013, Willie Robertson, Dasher's cousin, cut an ad for Rep. Vance McAllister, but the incumbent congressman has fallen out of favor with the family since he was caught on tape kissing a staffer.

GOP Senate Hopeful: "Less Than 2,000" Women Sued My Company For Pay Discrimination

| Mon Oct. 27, 2014 11:18 AM EDT
GOP Senate candidate David Perdue and his wife at a recent campaign stop

David Perdue, the Republican nominee for Senate in Georgia, has a lady problem—at least according to recent polls, which show Democrat Michelle Nunn ahead with women voters in this toss-up election.

In a Sunday night debate between Perdue and Nunn, the moderator suggested that ads about Perdue's time as the CEO of Dollar General, a discount chain, had damaged the GOPer's campaign. Shortly after Perdue stepped down as Dollar General's CEO, hundreds of female managers sued the company for pay discrimination that allegedly took place during Perdue's tenure. Nunn's campaign and EMILY's List have both aired millions of dollars' worth of negative ads describing the class-action lawsuit. The moderator urged Perdue: "Talk to those women in particular."

Here's how Perdue responded: "If you look at Dollar General as an example, there was no wrongdoing there," he said. "That lawsuit, or that claim, or that complaint was settled five years after I had left…And it was less than 2,000 people. We had upwards of 70,000 employees in that company."

An annual report Dollar General submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission puts the actual number of female managers in that class action at 2,100. As Mother Jones reported in May, the women had been paid less than their male peers between the dates of November 30, 2004 and November 30, 2007—almost exactly the dates that Perdue was CEO (from April 2003 to summer 2007.) The class action began in late 2007, and Dollar General settled the lawsuit for $18.75 million without admitting to discrimination.

"Two thousand women, that actually seems like quite a lot to me," Nunn said at the debate.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 27, 2014

Mon Oct. 27, 2014 10:58 AM EDT

US Marines watch from the gunner's door of a Seahawk helicopter over the Atlantic ocean. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Todd F. Michalek)

Another Day, Another School Shooting

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 3:47 PM EDT

A school shooting took place inside the cafeteria of Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington state on Friday. The suspected gunman, a student at the high school, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to CNN. Federal officials say up to five people were shot. Roughly 50 people were present in the cafeteria at the time. At least one student has been killed, four others injured.

If you feel like you're stuck watching some kind of awful repeat programming, it's because you are: According to data gathered by the reform group Everytown for Gun Safety, Friday's is the 87th shooting incident at a school since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary nearly two years ago.

For a detailed look into the rise of mass shootings in America, see our latest coverage here.

We Spent Millions so Afghans Could Film Live Sports With Headless Goat Carcasses—And Screwed It Up

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 3:25 PM EDT
One of the TV trucks under tarps in Kabul, Afghanistan

In August 2011, the State Department purchased broadcast trucks for Afghan TV stations, for $3.6 million (206 million Afghanis), to help them tape live sporting events, like "buzkashi, soccer, cricket, and other sports." (Buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport, translates to "goat grabbing" where horse-mounted players drag a headless goat carcass towards opposing goals.)

But no one has been able to watch any goat carcasses filmed by those trucks in the past two years, because those trucks didn't show up until late July. And now, they're sitting around under tarps, unused—because the State Department could cancel the contract whenever it wants.

A scene from Buzkashi Boys depicting men playing buzkashi. Buzkashi Boys

John Spoko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), sent Secretary of State John Kerry a letter demanding an explanation for the delayed TV trucks on Friday.

According to the letter, in addition to the late delivery, the price of the television trucks "more than tripled" since the original order date. And, one of the trucks "was damaged in transit." As of September, the trucks are still sitting under tarps as the SIGAR staff waits for the State Department to accept delivery.

Spoko claims that, because the trucks were delivered so late, the State Department may elect to end the contract and take the trucks back. After the late delivery, the tripled unit cost and several contract modifications, Spoko is wary of how aboveboard this deal really is: "If this information is accurate, it suggests that something is seriously wrong with the way this contract was managed."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that SIGAR had "teamed up" with State to purchase the trucks. SIGAR is investigating the arrangement. It was not involved in it.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 24, 2014

Fri Oct. 24, 2014 9:38 AM EDT

US Navy Sailors aboard a guided missile destroyer plot on a chart during a damage control drill. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes)

Anti-Abortion Colorado Republican Candidate Tries to Pass Himself Off As Pro-Choice

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 5:00 AM EDT
Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.

Bob Beauprez, the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado, just joined a growing club of GOP politicians—including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Senate hopeful Scott Brown of New Hampshire—who have grossly misrepresented their stance on women's reproductive rights.

In an interview aired Wednesday on Colorado Public Radio, Beauprez, a former congressman, struck a decidedly pro-choice note when asked about abortion and birth control. He said he would not stand in the way of women having access to abortions, nor would he interfere with women choosing what kind of birth control to use. "I respect people's opinion, women's right to that choice," he said. He later added, "I don't want to run somebody else's family and make decisions for their family, their life; I want them to have the opportunity and the freedom to do that themselves."

Here's the full exchange (listen to the audio above):

CPR: On women's reproductive health, as governor would you be committed to your current stated position that while you're personally against abortions, you won't stand in the way of people having access to them or letting women choose their preferred method of birth control?

Bob Beauprez: That's correct. I respect people's opinion, women's right to that choice. I know what the law is. And my job is to enforce the law. The question of birth control has come up and let me be real clear…I think women ought to have the choice of whether to use birth control or not. I think women ought to have the choice of what type of birth control to use. I just don't think taxpayers need to be paying for it.

I respect people's right to choose. I live my life the way I personally choose, but I'm not going to interfere with somebody else's. The job of a governor is less to govern the people, and more to govern the government. I don't want to make somebody else's decision, but I want them to have every opportunity to make their own. I don't want to run somebody else's family and make decisions for their family, their life; I want them to have the opportunity and the freedom to do that themselves. That's the kind of governor I'll be.

Right to that choicehave the choiceright to choosethe way I choose: Beauprez almost sounds like a Planned Parenthood activist. But his legislative record and past statements couldn't be more at odds with his seemingly pro-choice comments.

In 2005, then-Rep. Beauprez cosponsored the Right to Life Act, a measure that guaranteed "equal protection for the right to life of each born and pre-born human person." The bill defined life beginning with "the moment of fertilization," and could severely restrict abortions. In Colorado Right-to-Life's 2006 voter guide, he said he supported a constitutional amendment to "restore full protection to pre-born human beings." That same year, he asserted—incorrectly—that the abortion rate for black women was an "appalling" 70 percent. (The actual rate at the time, according to the Guttmacher Institute, was 49 per 1,000—or 4.9 percent.) And in 2013, in a column on TownHall.com, he urged all Americans to reconcile the "tragedies" of abortions just as they reconciled the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut.

As a gubernatorial candidate, Beauprez has not wavered from his decidedly anti-abortion position. He continues to say that he opposes all forms of abortion, even in cases of rape and incest unless the mother's life is at risk. He bragged to an interviewer in March about his "100 percent pro-life voting record." He also claims that an IUD is an abortifacient, not contraception. Beauprez has not said how he'd act on these beliefs, though he says he would eliminate all state funding for Planned Parenthood.

But anyone listening to his recent Colorado Public Radio interview might think that Beauprez was a supporter of a woman's right to choose, just as Scott Walker and Scott Brown sought to imply in their own sneaky ads on the issue. Pro-choice women are a key voting bloc that Beauprez needs to win—and he appears willing to distort his record to get their votes.

New York City Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 3:38 PM EDT

Update, Tuesday, November 11: Craig Spencer has been declared Ebola-free and was released from the hospital Tuesday. 

The New York Times reports Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who had recently been to West Africa to help treat Ebola patients, has tested positive for the disease. Spencer is the first person in New York to be diagnosed.

As Spencer's identity had been confirmed late Thursday afternoon, it became known he had been bowling in Brooklyn on Wednesday, traveling via an Uber ride to and from Manhattan.

"Ebola is very difficult to contract, being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not put someone at risk," de Blasio told reporters at a news conference Thursday evening.

Since coming back to the United States on October 14th, the city's health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, confirmed Spencer used the subway's A, 1, and L lines and bowled at The Gutter in Williamsburg. Bassett said the city has been preparing for the possibility of an outbreak for the past few weeks, with Cuomo emphasizing healthcare workers have been well-trained for such an event.

Earlier Thursday, Spencer was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan after suffering from Ebola-like symptoms, including a 100.3 fever and nausea. The health department's initial report Spencer had a 103 degree fever was corrected on Friday.

The New York City Health Department released a statement indicating Spencer had returned to the United States within the past 21 days.

The patient was transported by a specially trained HAZ TAC unit wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  After consulting with the hospital and the CDC, DOHMH has decided to conduct a test for the Ebola virus because of this patient’s recent travel history, pattern of symptoms, and past work. DOHMH and HHC are also evaluating the patient for other causes of illness, as these symptoms can also be consistent with salmonella, malaria, or the stomach flu.

The New York Post first identified Spencer, who returned from Guinea on October 14 and reported his fever this morning.

CNN producer Vaughn Sterling tweeted the following:

Reminder, refrain from panicking. This post has been updated throughout.

Students at a Nebraska High School Can Now Pose With Guns in Their Senior Portraits

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 1:14 PM EDT

Seniors at Broken Bow High School in Nebraska have been granted their God-given right to pose with guns for their upcoming senior portraits, just as long as the photos are taken off campus and done "tastefully."

“The board, I believe, felt they wanted to give students who are involved in those kinds of things the opportunity to take a senior picture with their hobby, with their sport, just like anybody with any other hobby or sport,” Superintendent Mark Sievering explained to local paper, the Omaha World-Herald.

One would think such a bizarre proposal would prompt some level of debate, a modicum of sane opposition! After all, we're talking about mere teenagers eerily striking poses with weapons in their adolescent hands. Alas, the idea was met with a unanimous yes by all members of the Broken Bow school board.

“For me as a sportsman, I think the policy’s important because it allows those kids who are doing those things a chance to demonstrate what they’re doing and to celebrate that. I think that’s important and fair in our country," board member Matthew Haumont said.

As for the "tasteful" requirement, that means classy poses only folks: no photos with weapons pointed at the camera, no brandishing of weapons, and no "scantily clad girls."