Political MoJo

More Than 200,000 of Virginia's Ex-Felons Will Soon Have Their Voting Rights Restored

| Fri Apr. 22, 2016 1:09 PM EDT

On Friday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that more than 200,000 of the state's former felons will soon have their voting rights restored—a move that will allow convicted felons who have completed their sentences to vote in this year's presidential election. McAuliffe described the executive order as a step towards correcting the state's longstanding history of disenfranchising African Americans from the voting process.

"There's no question that we've had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African Americans—we should remedy it," McAuliffe said on Thursday.

The executive order bypassed Republicans in the state, who view former felons as potential Democratic voters. Their angry response was swift:

Nearly every state—with the exception of Maine and Vermont—has restrictions on the voting rights of felons. Virginia's restrictions have been in place since after the Civil War, when the state's constitution permanently barred former felons from being able to vote.

Recently, the McAuliffe administration has loosened the strict ban by allowing former felons who were convicted of non-violent crimes to be automatically eligible to have their rights restored. Today's announcement expands the right to include those who were found guilty of committing both violent and non-violent crimes but, as the Washington Post reports, restoration will no longer be automatic. The governor will be required to review each case on an ongoing basis.

For more on the movement to restore voting rights and the impact of disenfranchisement, read our explainer here.

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Trump's Delusional Plan to Win in November Isn't Even Original

| Fri Apr. 22, 2016 11:23 AM EDT

Donald Trump's political director told a room full of Republican bigwigs on Thursday that if the tower-dwelling steak magnate is the party's nominee for president, he will redraw the electoral map in November. Per the New York Times:

As the Republicans ate oysters in a dim, stuffy conference room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Mr. [Rick] Wiley walked them through a slide show that predicted victory for Mr. Trump not just in swing states with large Hispanic populations like Nevada, Colorado and Florida, but in states that Republicans have not captured since the 1980s: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Connecticut.

This sounds crazy because it is, but it's not a kind of crazy that's unique to Trump. Republican nominees (or prospective nominees) always say this.

In a video for Republican donors in June 2008, John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, showed off a map highlighting states McCain had in the bag and states that might be in play. The list of states that were Republican locks included three that Barack Obama ultimately won: Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. The list of states that McCain's campaign considered battlegrounds included California and Connecticut. Oh, and Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Okay, that was 2008. It was a long time ago. We didn't have self-driving cars or even face-swap back then. But in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney again proposed to redraw the electoral map by flipping Midwestern states the party hadn't won since the Ronald Reagan era. His campaign spent much of the final week of the race in Pennsylvania. It considered Wisconsin the new Ohio. In October, Romney and his backers went on the air in Michigan and Minnesota.

Trump is out of step with his party's previous standard-bearers on many things, but when it comes to overstating his electoral chances in blue states, he talks a lot like the establishment.

Uber Agrees to Pay $100 Million to Drivers in Historic Class Action Settlement

| Fri Apr. 22, 2016 12:30 AM EDT

Ride-sharing giant Uber announced that it has agreed to pay $100 million to settle two class action lawsuits, in which thousands of drivers alleged that they were improperly classified as independent contractors instead of employees. 

The California and Massachusetts lawsuits were set to go to trial in June.

As part of the agreement, which was announced Thursday evening, drivers will keep the contractor classification, but Uber will pay out $84 million to the drivers, and an additional $16 million if the company goes public and the Uber's valuation hits certain growth levels.

The settlement is one of the largest ever achieved on behalf of workers who alleged that they were improperly classified as independent contractors, wrote Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney who represented the workers in both cases, in an email. Depending on how many miles they've driven and several other factors, individual drivers could receive up to $8,000 in settlement money, she said.

The agreement has several other significant terms, including that Uber will now be required to tell passengers that tips are not included in their fare. Drivers will be allowed to put small signs in their cars that say as much. Uber will also facilitate and help fund the creation of driver associations in both California and Massachusetts, where drivers will be able to elect peers to leadership positions, and bring drivers' concerns to management. 

For two years, Uber pulled out all the stops to fight this case. The company hired lawyer Ted Boutrous, who successfully represented Walmart before the Supreme Court in the largest employment class action in US history and it twice inserted arbitration clauses into contracts to prevent more drivers from signing on to the class action.

That's likely because classifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees is a major cost-saver that has helped Uber grow into a $60 billion company; losing that classification could have cost the company untold millions.

And Uber is not alone: Classifying workers as independent contractors is a common cost-cutting strategy among popular Silicon Valley startups (Lyft, Postmates, Washio, and more) that have relied on cheap, gig economy freelancers to provide services and have grown rapidly as a result.

While this historic agreement is a significant win for her clients, the question of worker classification in Silicon Valley has yet to be resolved, Liss-Riordan said in an email.

"No court has decided here whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors and that debate will not end here," Liss-Riordan wrote. "This case, however, with this significant payment of money, and attention that has been drawn to this issue, stands as a stern warning to companies who play fast and loose with classifying their workforce as independent contractors, who do not receive the benefits of the wage laws and other employee protections."

The FBI Spent More Than $1 Million to Hack One Potentially Useless Phone

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 5:08 PM EDT

It turns out the FBI's 11-hour solution to its huge public fight with Apple didn't come cheap.

FBI director James Comey said on Thursday that the agency paid more than $1 million to unnamed private-sector hackers for help in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI first attempted to make Apple write software that would allow law enforcement to unlock the phone quickly, but the company refused and said the request could unconstitutionally expand government authority. The case sparked an uproar over digital privacy as well as a major court battle, which stopped only when the FBI announced it had received the hackers' help and withdrew its order to Apple.

Comey, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, didn't give a specific price for the hack, but said it cost the agency more than he would make in the next seven years of his term as director. The FBI director makes at least $181,500 a year by law, putting the cost of the hack at a minimum of $1.27 million, by Comey's estimate. An FBI press officer could not confirm the accuracy of Comey's estimate or provide a specific cost.

"It was worth it," Comey told the audience in Aspen. But it's not clear how much value the hacking method or the phone actually has. Comey has repeatedly said that the method used to break into the phone would work only on an iPhone 5C running iOS 9, like the San Bernardino phone, and that Apple could discover and fix the security flaw that allowed the hack to work. And on Tuesday, CNN reported that the phone "didn't contain evidence of contacts with other ISIS supporters or the use of encrypted communications during the period the FBI was concerned about." The FBI argues the lack of information is valuable evidence in and of itself.

We Dare You to Not Break Down Watching Prince's Tribute to Freddie Gray

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 4:19 PM EDT
Prince at Coachella music festival in 2008

Prince wasn't just a major pop icon—he was also a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last May, after weeks of protests in Baltimore that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, he released a tribute song, "Baltimore," which honored Gray and those demonstrating against police brutality. Prince performed the song live that month at a free show in Baltimore. He also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement while presenting the award for Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammys. "Albums still matter," he said. "Like books and black lives, albums still matter."

Today fans are mourning the death of the legendary pop star. This week also marks the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray's death. Check out the video for Prince's tribute to Gray below.

A "Staggering Number" of Vets End Up Homeless After Experiencing Sexual Violence in the Military

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 12:51 PM EDT

Researchers have identified a new risk factor for homelessness among veterans: military sexual trauma. Nearly 1 in 10 veterans who experienced sexual assault or harassment in the military became homeless within five years—a "staggering number," noted an editorial in JAMA Psychiatry, which published the study Wednesday.

The research, funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, drew on a national sample of 601,892 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were discharged between 2001 and 2011. Those who reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while they were in the military were twice as likely to become homeless within five years as those who did not, and the results held true even after controlling for PTSD, alcohol and drug addiction, and serious mental illnesses.

The trauma of violence during a military deployment can make returning to civilian life more difficult, the study's authors point out, with homelessness exemplifying "an extreme case of poor reintegration." Military sexual trauma, or MST, includes forcible and coerced sexual assault, as well as harassment (uninvited or unwanted sexual attention, including cornering, touching, pressure for sexual favors, or verbal remarks). According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of MST.

According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of military sexual trauma.

Interestingly, the researchers found a slightly higher rate of homelessness among male veterans who experienced sexual violence as compared to women. "Men with a positive MST screen are a particularly vulnerable group," the authors wrote. "In addition to the burden of issues regarding masculinity, sexuality, and self-concept among males who have experienced sexual trauma," they also may be less likely to seek mental-health treatment than women—potentially leading to worsening psychiatric symptoms and homelessness.

The link between homelessness and the experience of different kinds of traumatic events—childhood abuse, domestic violence, even homelessness itself—is well documented. The study also adds homelessness to an already long list of MST's public health consequences. Past research has found that experiencing MST increased a person's odds of mental illness by two to three times—most notably post-traumatic stress disorder, but also alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety disorders, depression, dissociative disorders. That's not to mention the links between MST and certain medical conditions: liver disease, chronic pulmonary disease, obesity, hypothyroidism, and HIV/AIDS.

According to researcher Adi Gundlapalli, an associate professor at the University of Utah medical school, potential consequences of military sexual violence include low social support, poor interpersonal relationships, and revictimization. "These types of problems may compromise employment and put one at risk for financial instability," Gundlapalli says. "Ultimately, this may lead to homelessness."

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Harriet Tubman to Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 12:34 PM EDT

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will reportedly announce on Wednesday the decision to replace the image of former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with an image of Harriet Tubman.

Politico reports Lew will also announce that the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain on the $10 bill, but that the back of that bill will feature members of the suffragist movement. Last month, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton, met with Lew to discuss keeping the former president on the $10 bill. 

The movement to replace Jackson's image with Tubman's image started with the "Women on 20's" group, which advocated featuring a woman on the $20 bill because of Jackson's controversial support of the Indian Removal Act.

This is a breaking news post. We will update once the announcement is made.

Three Officials Charged in Flint Water Crisis

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 10:04 AM EDT

Update, April 20, 10:20 a.m. EST: Three state and city officials have been charged in connection to the Flint water crisis. Flint employee Michael Glasgow was charged with tampering with evidence and two officials from Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, Steven Bush and Michael Prysby, were charged with office misconduct and tampering with evidence.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is expected to announce the first set of criminal charges on Wednesday in connection with the Flint water crisis that exposed city residents to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. The Associated Press reports that up to three officials will be charged, including two state regulators and one Flint employee.

The announcement comes just one day after a federal judge dismissed a $150 million lawsuit filed by Flint residents on behalf of those affected by the city's contaminated water system. The "man-made disaster," as Flint's mayor called the situation, started with a 2014 move to switch the city's water source to the Flint River instead of Lake Huron, where Detroit residents get their water, in an effort to save money.

Gov. Rick Snyder has come under pressure to resign amid growing evidence that state officials knew the change in water systems exposed residents to high levels of lead, leaving thousands of children at risk of brain damage. On Tuesday, Snyder announced he planned to drink filtered water from a Flint residence for at least a month in order to prove it is now safe to consume.

For more on the crisis, head to our investigation here.

Watch Donald Trump Blast the GOP's "Crooked System" in His NY Victory Speech

| Tue Apr. 19, 2016 10:23 PM EDT

Speaking from Trump Tower in Manhattan on Tuesday, Donald Trump celebrated his resounding victory in New York's Republican primary. The GOP front-runner took the opportunity to dismiss his challengers, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, and to declare the race essentially over.

"Senator Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated," Trump told a crowd of supporters. "We've won another state. As you know we have won a million more votes than Senator Cruz. Millions and millions of more votes than Governor Kasich."

"We're really, really rocking," he added.

The real estate magnate closed out his victory speech by once again criticizing the Republican party, describing its presidential nomination system as "rigged." At one point, Trump even referenced the battle that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are currently waging for the support of Democratic superdelegates.

"Nobody should take delegates and claim victory unless they get those delegates with voters and voting," he said. "And that's what's going to happen, and you watch, because the people aren't going to stand for it. It's a crooked system."