July 6, 2014

A Norfolk, Nebraska, parade float depicting the Obama presidential library as an outhouse has come under fire for its allegedly racist undertone. Carried on the back of a flatbed truck in the town's Independence Day parade, the float showed a dummy in overalls standing outside the makeshift latrine.

The state Democratic Party called the float one of the "worst shows of racism and disrespect for the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen." Yet the float nonetheless received some of the day's heartiest cheers, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. And organizers defended the float, with parade committee member Rick Konopasek likening it to a political cartoon.

"We don't feel its right to tell someone what they can and can't express," he said. "This was political satire. If we start saying no to certain floats, we might as well not have a parade at all." Jon Terbush

10:45 a.m. ET
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Press coverage of President Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has often taken the form of a study in contrasts. Kelly is disciplined, orderly, no-nonsense. Trump is impetuous, chaotic, and often nonsensical. Kelly is portrayed not as a Trump enthusiast like policy adviser Stephen Miller, but as a "studiously apolitical" career soldier shouldering the grim duty of taming Trump.

But what if that's not true? This is the proposal of Perry Bacon Jr. in a new analysis today at FiveThirtyEight. "Kelly seems to have deeply-held views, particularly on immigration," Bacon writes, recently suggesting "undocumented immigrants who had not yet signed up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were 'lazy.'"

And like Trump, Kelly's first instinct was to defend former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter when he was accused of abuse by his two ex-wives. In these and other ways, Bacon argues, Kelly differs from Trump in style, but in substance he is not "a kind of anti-Trump."

As for how the press "bungled the John Kelly story," Bacon presents five ideas for what went wrong, including insider journalism and insufficient knowledge of Kelly's political views. See Bacon's list here, and read The Week's Matthew Walther for the case that Kelly wasn't always this way. Bonnie Kristian

10:43 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, CNN's Alisyn Camerota had some questions for former Republican Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), who questioned the authenticity of the students who survived last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the wake of the shooting — in which 17 people were killed by a 19-year-old wielding a semiautomatic weapon — students across the country have planned anti-gun demonstrations, which Kingston suggested over the weekend was the nefarious work of "left-wing gun control activists.”

On Tuesday, Kingston appeared on CNN's New Day to explain that claim. Camerota began with a simple question: "Do you think these kids aren't acting on their own volition?"

Kingston acknowledged that the shooting was "a horrible tragedy" but said that the students' "sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups. ... Do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?" Kingston claimed this looked like the work of groups associated with liberal financier and frequent right-wing target George Soros.

Camerota insisted otherwise: "I talked to these kids before they knew the body count of how many of their friends had been killed," she said. "They hadn't been indoctrinated by some left-wing group. They were motivated from what they saw and what they endured during that ordeal."

Kingston tried to backtrack, saying, "I don't doubt their sincerity," to which Camerota replied, "Yes you do, Jack." The former congressman then argued that 17-year-olds simply do not have the "logistical ability to plan a nationwide rally without it being hijacked by groups that already had the pre-existing anti-gun agenda."

"Jack, it's just silly," Camerota replied. Watch the whole exchange below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:22 a.m. ET
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In 2012, the government of Dallas struck a deal with the National Rifle Association (NRA): If the organization would host its 2018 annual convention at the city-owned Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, it could rent the space for free. City Hall would offer a $22,840 discount, and the city's tourism bureau would cover the rest, about $387,000. In exchange, Dallas expected city businesses to rake in some $42 million from around 75,000 convention attendees.

But after a series of high-profile mass shootings, most recently the school shooting in Florida last week, Dallas leaders are less enthused about the arrangement. On Monday, Dwaine Caraway, a city council member who is also mayor pro tem, urged the NRA not to come to Dallas. Should the convention proceed, he predicted, there will be "marches and demonstrations" and "we, Dallas, will be the ones who have to bear the costs, the responsibility, and to protect the citizens."

The city council did not have an opportunity to vote on the NRA convention subsidy. In 2016, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D) said he is not personally thrilled about the NRA coming to town, but would prioritize "what makes good business sense."

The NRA responded to Caraway's remarks by noting that "no politician anywhere can tell the NRA not to come to their city" because NRA members already live in Dallas. Bonnie Kristian

10:15 a.m. ET
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has filed charges against lawyer Alex Van der Zwaan, who is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to lying about an interaction with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, the longtime associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, CNN reports. Van der Zwaan is also accused of willfully failing to turn over an email communication that was requested by the special counsel's office.

Little has been previously reported about van der Zwaan, who is apparently "a London-based, Russian-speaking son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan," writes Washington Post legal reporter Spencer Hsu. BuzzFeed News reports that "according to the criminal information filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office ... investigators asked van der Zwaan in November about his work in 2012 for the Ukraine Ministry of Justice preparing a report on the trial on Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister."

Van der Zwaan claimed incorrectly to Mueller's team that his last communication with Gates was an "innocuous text message," the charges say. In fact, van der Zwaan spoke "with both Gates and Person A" in September 2016 about a report on the trial of Tymoshenko.

In November, KyivPost reported that "prosecutors on the case want to question members of the Skadden team who came to Ukraine to work on" the report, which sought to justify the imprisonment of Tymoshenko by former President Viktor Yanukovych. Members of the team cited by KyivPost included "Obama Administration officials Gregory Craig and Clifford Sloan, as well as [Alex Van der Zwaan] … who prosecutors say acted as an intermediary for the team on much of the trip." Jeva Lange

9:32 a.m. ET
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In the wake of the Florida high school shooting, which left 17 students and teachers dead last week, President Trump has called for tackling "the difficult issue of mental health." His focus has received sharp criticism from experts, including The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, who writes that Trump's calls say "nothing" because "every country contains mentally ill and potentially violent people. Only America arms them."

The focus on mental health, as it turns out, has far more to do with the public's perception of the gun violence crisis than the reality of the situation. In 2016, people with diagnosed mental illnesses committed less than one percent of all firearm homicides, NBC reports. "There's not really a correlation," explained criminologist Dr. James Alan Fox. "We like to think that these people are different from the rest of us. We want a simple explanation and if we just say they're mentally ill, case closed. Because of how fearful, dangerous, and deadly their actions are, we really want to distance ourselves from it and relegate it to illness."

Americans nevertheless overwhelmingly believe that mental health issues are at the heart of the issue, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll has found. Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe mass shootings in the United States are more of a reflection of "problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems" than "inadequate gun control laws," the poll found. Twenty-eight percent of people said gun control was the central issue, while nine percent said it was both mental health and gun legislation, and two percent said it was neither.

Additionally, over three-quarters of Americans said the Parkland shooting could have been prevented "by more effective mental health screening and treatment." The poll reached 808 adults between Feb. 15 and 18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus four points. Jeva Lange

8:47 a.m. ET

It's a familiar story by this point — a powerful lawmaker is accused of groping aides and making sexually inappropriate comments, denies the allegations, faces more corroborated accusations — but this time there's a little twist: She's a fairly prominent voice in the #MeToo movement, featured in Time's "The Silence Breakers" spread. After the second batch of allegations surfaced last week, California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) took voluntary unpaid leave while the state legislature investigates the sexual harassment allegations.

The first public allegation against Garcia was from Daniel Fierro, a former staffer for Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D), who told Politico that a visibly intoxicated Garcia groped his butt and reached for his crotch after an Assembly softball game in 2014, when he was 25. Then, last Wednesday, four anonymous former staffers accused Garcia of talking graphically about her sex life at work (including with other lawmakers), drinking in the office, pressuring staff to drink with her, and constantly reminding them they were "replaceable."

One of those staffers, David John Kernick, a former field representative for Garcia, came forward Saturday with a complaint alleging that Garcia had fired him "after he questioned the appropriateness of her suggestion that after a fundraiser at a whiskey bar" in 2014 they "sit on the floor of her hotel room and play spin the bottle." Tim Reardon, who was Garcia's chief of staff in 2014, called the allegations a "complete falsehood," saying Kernick was fired for poor work.

Garcia was among the hundreds of women in Sacramento to sign a letter protesting harassment at the California Capitol, telling The New York Times that "multiple people have grabbed my butt and grabbed my breasts. ... We're talking about senior lobbyists and lawmakers." On Monday, Garcia celebrated a new California law that penalizes lawmakers who retaliate against staffers for making a "good faith allegation," including of sexual misconduct. Peter Weber

8:43 a.m. ET

The majority of Americans at the prime age to serve in the armed forces are actually ineligible due to obesity, health concerns, education, or criminal records, Politico reports. In total, almost three-quarters of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are not fit to serve, putting a damper on the Trump administration's plans to beef up the armed forces.

"The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers," a new Heritage Foundation paper on the concerns concludes. "Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives."

Easing recruiting standards has been in consideration, although many are opposed. "We lowered the standards [in 2009], we signed more waivers for people who had acts of criminality than we usually did," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr. "We paid the price … The last place that we would go is to mess with the standards."

Still, even Spoehr notes that "obesity and the percentage of people overweight in the country has just skyrocketed in the last 10 to 15 years. Asthma is going up. High school graduation rates are still just barely acceptable and in some big cities they are miserable. Criminality is also not going away. We have to face the reality that these things in some cases are getting worse, not better."

That is to say nothing of the waning interest in joining the military. "Many of today's youth are not inclined to want to leave their family and friends," said United States Army Recruitment Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Bowers, as reported by Army Times. "Family and friends, they oppose them joining the military service." Jeva Lange

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