Blogs

News Flash: Bill Clinton Has a Pretty High Speaking Fee

| Fri May 29, 2015 1:36 PM EDT

Over in the New York Times today, Deborah Sontag has a 2,000-word piece about a charity called the Happy Hearts Fund. There seem to be two big takeaways: (a) celebrities use their fame to promote their charities, and (b) Bill Clinton usually won't appear at your event for free. His speaking fee is a donation to the Clinton Foundation. In this particular case, Happy Hearts donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and in return Clinton appeared at their event to receive a lifetime achievement award.

I'm racking my brain here. I know I'm partisan about this and would just as soon not attribute dark motives to Clinton. But even putting that aside, what's the story here? Celebrities use their fame to promote their pet causes? Bill Clinton commands a high speaking fee? Is there something that's even unsavory about this, let alone scandalous? Is there something that's out of the ordinary or not already common knowledge? If the story featured, say, George W. Bush instead of Clinton, would I be more outraged? What am I missing?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A New Poll Has Good News for Pro-Choicers

| Fri May 29, 2015 1:07 PM EDT

After seven years on the outs, choice is back. For the first time since 2008, significantly more Americans identify as pro-choice (50 percent) than pro-life (44 percent), according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

"This is the first time since 2008 that the pro-choice position has had a statistically significant lead in Americans' abortion views," the survey notes. In the intervening years, Americans were split fairly evenly on the issue of abortion—except in 2012, when pro-life sentiment outpaced pro-choice views 50 percent to 41 percent.

The poll found that in the past three years, women have become more pro-choice (54 percent) than men (46 percent). Since 2012, Democrats, Republicans and independents have all become increasingly pro-choice. But Democrats show the biggest long-term jump in pro-choice views, from 55 percent in 2001 to 68 percent today. By contrast, 30 percent of Republicans were pro-choice in 2001 and 31 percent identify as pro-choice today—a statistically insignificant change.

The years since the last pro-choice peak in 2008 have been rough for abortion rights advocates. Republican legislatures across the country have sought to roll back access to abortions—banning the procedure after 20 weeks (and even earlier in some cases), requiring additional doctor visits and ultrasounds, and placing onerous regulations on clinics that forced many to shut their doors. Gallup didn't touch on these issues, simply noting that "the momentum for the pro-life position that began when Barack Obama took office has yielded to a pro-choice rebound."

Gallup raised the possibility that abortion views are riding on the coattails of a "broader liberal shift in Americans' ideology of late" that "could mean the recent pro-choice expansion has some staying power."

If You Want to Be Part of the Top 1 Percent, You'd Better Be Working For a Top 1 Percent Firm

| Fri May 29, 2015 11:53 AM EDT

What has caused the explosive growth of income inequality over the past three decades? Is it the fact the CEO pay has skyrocketed, leaving everyone else behind? Maybe. But according to a new paper, that's not quite the right story.

Basically a group of researchers at NBER have concluded that inequality between firms has skyrocketed, and employees of those firms all go along for the ride. A small number of "super firms" have become enormously successful, and within these super firms inequality between the CEO and the worker bees hasn't changed much at all. They pay all their employees more than the average firm, from the CEO down.

The chart on the right tells the story. Ignore the green line for the moment and just look at the blue and red lines. The red line shows that the top tenth of firms have far outperformed everyone else. The blue line shows that workers follow the same pattern. The ones who work for the top firms get paid a lot more than the folks who work for average firms.

As it turns out, some industries have more super firms than others and thus contribute more to growing income inequality. The FIRE sector—Finance, Insurance, Real Estate—is the most obvious example. Both firm revenue and individual compensation has gone up far more than in any sector. But other sectors have their superstars too, and individuals at those firms get paid a lot more than a similar worker at a firm that's not doing so well.

So in addition to talking about the top 1% of individuals, we should be talking about the top 1% of firms. But what does that mean? Things get a little hazy at this point:

Instead of top incomes rising within firms, top-paying firms are now paying even higher wages. This may tend to make inequality more invisible, as individuals do not see rising inequality among their peers. More research needs to be done to understand why inequality between firms has increased so much more than inequality within them. But this fact of stable inequality within firms should inform our understanding of the great increase in inequality within the United States over the last three decades.

Matt O'Brien suggests that this means nearly every industry is now part of the winner-take-all economy. In the same way that modern technology allows a tiny subset of superstar singers or actors to earn huge audiences (and huge paychecks), perhaps it also enables modern firms to do the same. And it could be self-reinforcing. The super firms can afford to hire the best workers, and that in turn drives even more unequal growth.

In any case, if the authors are right, it matters a lot which firm you work for. If you pick the right one, you might ride the income inequality gravy train right to the top. In not, you probably won't.

US Officially Removes Cuba From List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

| Fri May 29, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

On Friday, the State Department announced the decision to drop Cuba from a list of states sponsoring terrorism. The official press release:

In December 2014, the President instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and provide a report to him within six months regarding Cuba's support for international terrorism. On April 8, 2015, the Secretary of State completed that review and recommended to the President that Cuba no longer be designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

Accordingly, on April 14, the President submitted to Congress the statutorily required report indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The 45-day Congressional pre-notification period has expired, and the Secretary of State has made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015.

The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission. While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation

The decision is a major step toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Havana. Among other activities, Friday's announcement will allow Cuba to do banking in the United States. However, the move does not lift the trade embargo, which requires congressional approval. 

Economy Shrinks in Q1; Annual Growth Still Stuck in the Doldrums

| Fri May 29, 2015 10:29 AM EDT

Today brings disappointing economic news. The economy didn't just grow slowly in the first quarter, it actually shrunk by 0.7 percent. As usual, winter weather is getting part of the blame, and some economists are going even further, wondering if we need to step back and take a look at the formula for seasonal adjustments. Perhaps, for some reason, the formula is no longer reflecting reality during the winter quarter.

Maybe. But what this shows is that although the US economy continues to putter along in decent shape, it still hasn't reached takeoff velocity. The economy has been growing at a rate of 2-3 percent per year for the past five years, and there's little evidence this is going to change anytime soon.

This Girl's Yearbook Quote Has the Most Amazing Feminist Message

| Fri May 29, 2015 9:14 AM EDT

Before leaving high school, Caitlyn Cannon, a 17-year-old who just graduated from Oak Hills High School in California, gifted her senior class with an amazing yearbook quote that nails feminism and sticks up for LGBT rights—all in just one line:

Her powerful message has since gone viral. Cannon, who describes herself as both "feminist" and "really gay" on Twitter, told the Huffington Post, "I was tired of seeing the same old quotes from popular books and movies and authors, and I wanted to call attention to a problem that women face. I've never really been ashamed to say that I am gay, so the LGBT aspect was simply who I am."

The future is looking so bright.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Havana Nights, Indoors

| Fri May 29, 2015 9:00 AM EDT

Friend of the blog Jay Jaroch recently spent some time in Cuba. Here's the third of three posts about what he observed while he was there.


One of the nice things about getting out of LA is taking a break from listening to your friends talk about all the television shows they can’t believe you’re not watching. I’m not sure I’ll be accepted back at work until I’ve turned in my term paper on the Mad Men finale. In terms of getting a reprieve, I figured Cuba was as good a place as any.

Little did I know that many Cubans are binge watching the same shows we are.

“I watched all seasons of Dexter,” one Havana man told a wide-eyed me. “Now I’m watching The Following. You like The Following?”

“Which one is that?” I asked.

“With Kevin Bacon.”

“Oh, right.”

Homeland, Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black—you name it. They may be a few episodes behind your friends in the states, but not by much. In a country where cable and satellite dishes are banned, and internet service is mostly confined to hotels and about as functional as the dial-up days, Cubans get their favorite shows via something called “the package.” Basically, it’s a cross between Netflix and a drug deal—for a small fee and a handshake, someone will hook you up with a flash drive full of Hollywood.

“You order what you want to see, which season, and a few days later you get the package,” a guide in Havana explained to me. “With Spanish subtitles. A good way to learn English.”

It was technically illegal, but also ubiquitous. And apparently Raul’s government doesn’t care.

“As long as you are not bringing in pornography, they don’t bother you,” the guide said.

(Cuba takes their anti-pornography laws seriously. My surly immigration official asked me only two questions: had I been to any Ebola affected areas, and was I bringing in pornography? One got the sense that you could have just about anything in your bag so long as it wasn’t an old copy of Swank.)

Another option in Havana was to watch TV in one of the better hotels, some of which were equipped with cable for their international clientele. One man I met seemed to be more up on American television than I was, and I work in television. I almost wanted to say “Clear eyes, full hearts!” just to see if he’d yell, “Can’t lose!” back at me.

Don’t worry. I didn’t.

This is new territory, and not for Hollywood—we’re used to having our product stolen and distributed on foreign streets. As recently as a few years ago, getting any sort of American dispatch, much less television, would have been impossible in Cuba. In 2006, at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (what passes for our embassy) we began broadcasting news and pro-American messages from an electronic ticker we’d installed at the top of the building. In response, Castro’s government erected 140 flagpoles in front of the ticker so Cubans couldn’t see the messages. Now, in 2015, Cubans are freely downloading American Idol, or any of our wonderful shows about pawn shops.

Change is afoot, and there’s certainly more to come. As I sat waiting for my flight out of José Martí Airport, half of the lights in the terminal flickered, and then went out. None of the electronic screens worked, and there was little evidence that they ever had. An announcement came over the loudspeaker telling us that the air conditioning was also out, and that they were working on it. No one seemed surprised at any of this. We all just continued fanning ourselves with our boarding passes.

As my Cubana plane finally arrived at the gate, I noticed an American Airlines plane was landing on the runway. It seemed appropriate. In Cuba, nobody knows what kind of change is on its way. But everyone knows that it’s coming.

Watch Sepp Blatter Lash Out Against FIFA's Critics in 2013

| Thu May 28, 2015 9:54 PM EDT

In October 2013, at the Oxford Union, FIFA president Sepp Blatter took aim at critics who viewed soccer's international governing body as "a faceless machine printing money at the expense of the beautiful game." (He also mocked Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo for how much he spends on his hair.) Blatter told the crowd:

There are those who will tell you that football is just a heartless, money-spinning game or just a pointless kick about on the grass. There are those who will tell you that FIFA is just a conspiracy, a scam, accountable to nobody and too powerful for anyone to resist. There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our Bond villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich, where we apparently plot to exploit the unfortunate and the weak. They would have you believe that I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat as my terrible sidekicks scour the earth to force countries to host the World Cup and to hand over all of their money. You might laugh. It is strange how fantasy so easily becomes confused with fact. And it feels almost absurd to have to say this. But that is not who we are. Not FIFA. Not me.

(You can watch the whole speech below—It's very long! He talks very slowly!—but the key bits are in the video up top.) 

These words resonate now, as Blatter sets his sights on a fifth term at the head of the organization amid pressure and criticism following a series of corruption-related charges on senior FIFA officials that have roiled the sport.

But remember that "Bond villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich" Blatter was talking about? Well, Swiss photographer Luca Zanier snapped a photo of FIFA executive committee's boardroom in Zurich, and it looks villain-esque. John Oliver even likened it to the war room in Dr. Strangelove.

 

Here is Blatter's full speech, courtesy of the Oxford Union:

Health Update

| Thu May 28, 2015 6:53 PM EDT

I spent all morning up at City of Hope for a follow-up appointment with my transplant doctor. My counts all look good. My white blood count is 5500 and my ANC count is at 2800. Both are right in the middle of the normal range, which means my immune system is rebounding as expected. That's very encouraging.

On the actual cancer front, the lab results are frustratingly hazy. The key thing my doctor wants to see is a big drop in my M protein level. Today I got the results from two weeks ago (it takes a while for the lab to do this particular test), and my M protein level had dropped from 1.0 to 0.38. The good news is that this means I responded to the chemotherapy. The hazier news is that it hasn't dropped to zero, as we'd like it to. I won't have the results of today's test until next week, but hopefully it will show a drop that gets me close to zero. Following that, around the end of June, I'll have a biopsy that will provide firm results on how well I responded to the chemo.

So....we wait. I'm not super thrilled with the 0.38 number, but my doctor assures me that this might represent nothing more than old cells lying around that haven't quite died off yet. We'll see.

Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" Music Video Set to the DuckTales Theme Song Is Amazing

| Thu May 28, 2015 6:42 PM EDT

This is so perfect. I love it so much. I love Beyoncé and I love the DuckTales and I love whoever made this video and I love America and I love the internet and I love George Washington for founding this wonderful country.