Political MoJo

WATCH: Obama Just Delivered Remarks About the Mass Shooting in Charleston

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 12:34 PM EDT

On Thursday, President Obama spoke about the mass shooting that killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

"Any death of this sort is a tragedy," Obama said in the televised address. "Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship. Emmanuel is more than church. It is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers worked to end slavery."

He then addressed the problems of gun violence and urged Americans to take action.

"Let's be clear—this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said. "It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. At some point it is going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it and shift how we deal with gun violence collectively."

This time last year, Obama called the nation's political failure to act on guns the "biggest frustration" of his presidency.

Shortly before the president's press conference on Thursday, the suspected gunman behind the attack, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina.

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Clarence Thomas Joins Supreme Court Liberals in Ruling Against Confederate Flag Rights

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 12:32 PM EDT

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the right of the state of Texas to reject a specialty license plate featuring a Confederate flag. The case featured an unusual alliance in which Justice Clarence Thomas, known for his rigid ideological conservatism, teamed up with the court's four liberal justices in a 5-4 majority.

The central issue in this case was whether a message displayed on a license plate is personal speech or government speech.

A Texas board had denied a request by the state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a license plate that displayed the group's name, founding date, and the Confederate flag. The state of Texas argued that license plates are government speech, so the state has the right to censor it. The Sons of Confederate Veterans claimed the plates are private speech, and that the government's decision not to approve its license plate request was discrimination based on viewpoint and a violation of its free-speech rights.

While the government can't engage in viewpoint discrimination of private speech, "[w]hen government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says," Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion states. "Texas license plates are, essentially, government IDs. And issuers of ID 'typically do not permit' the placement on their IDs of 'message[s] with which they do not wish to be associated.'"

The four dissenting justices argued that the majority "passes off private speech as government speech and, in doing so, establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that government finds displeasing."

Although Texas is now free to deny the Sons of Confederate Veterans a license plate with a Confederate flag, some state governments still embrace the controversial Civil War symbol. In South Carolina, where a shooting Wednesday night in a historic black church left nine people dead, the Confederate flag still flies on state capitol grounds.

Dylann Roof Had Confederate Plates. Here's Why the Rebel Flag Still Flies in South Carolina.

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 12:31 PM EDT
Pro-flag demonstrators at the South Carolina Capitol after the flag was removed from the dome in 2000.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will almost certainly order flags across the state to be flown at half-mast this week in honor of the black parishioners murdered Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But one flag will continue to fly as it always has—the Confederate flag in front of the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia. In a photo posted by the New York Times, the alleged gunman, Dylann Storm Roof, is seen posing in front of a car with a license plate bearing several iterations of the flag. (In an odd twist, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas could refuse to offer specialty Confederate flag license plates that had been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.)

 

The flag, a symbol of the struggle by a white minority engaged in an armed insurrection to preserve its right to violently enslave the black majority, has long been a divisive issue in the state, and criticism of its continued display flared up again after Wednesday's shooting. It was removed from the Capitol dome after massive protests in 2000, and as part of a compromise, relocated to the Confederate memorial. But the flag's origins in Columbia are a remnant of segregation, not the Civil War—it was first flown over the Capitol in 1962 in response to the civil rights push from Washington.

Despite the most recent incident of racial violence, don't expect the flag to come down any time soon. When Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was asked about it at a debate during her 2014 re-election campaign, she argued that it was a non-issue:

What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag...We really kinda fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African American US senator. That sent a huge message.

Watch:

Given that less than 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOS are black (compared with 28 percent of South Carolinians), they may not be the best focus group.

Dylann Storm Roof Identified as Suspected Gunman in Charleston Mass Shooting (Updated)

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 10:27 AM EDT

Update, 11:30 am EST: Dylann Storm Roof was reportedly arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, according to multiple news sources.

The FBI has reportedly identified Dylann Storm Roof as the suspected gunman behind the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday. Police released a flier Thursday morning with details of the suspect in the attack:

The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church killed nine people, six women and three men, including the church's pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

The Ten Dollar Bill Is Getting a Much-Needed Makeover

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 9:48 AM EDT

Ladies—we have finally made it! On to money, that is. (I mean, sure, Sacagawea is on the dollar coin or whatever, but we're talking real-deal-paper.) The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that a redesigned $10 bill will feature a woman alongside Alexander Hamilton, who has been on the note since 1929. 

Who will actually be featured on the bill remains to be seen, but Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will ultimately make the decision. The new $10 bill will debut in 2020, the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. 

The news comes just about a year after nine-year-old Sofia wrote to President Obama asking why there weren't any women on money in the United States and included a list of potential contenders that included his wife, Michelle. He responded saying he thought it was "a pretty good idea." The letter spawned a campaign called Women on 20, which launched petitions and created media to convince the president to put his money where his mouth is (literally).

It's unclear if the decision was influenced by the campaign, but soon we will find out if any of their proposed female icons (the final-round votes on their website left Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller) made the cut.

Walmart Uses 22 Shell Companies to Hide an Incredible Amount of Money in Luxembourg

| Wed Jun. 17, 2015 5:04 PM EDT

Overseas tax evasion by American corporations has become a political hot button of late: It haunted Mitt Romney in 2012, spurred President Barack Obama last year to crack down on so-called inversions, and has since been seized upon as a 2016 campaign issue by Hillary Clinton. American companies now have an estimated $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits stashed overseas, big sums of which belong to Apple, General Electric, and Microsoft.

Walmart is also a major overseas tax dodger, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness, a liberal-leaning think tank and advocacy group. The world's largest retailer has stashed $64 billion worth of assets in Luxembourg, Europe's smallest and most notorious tax haven. These assets—including cash and the ownership of real estate holdings around the world—are worth more than Luxembourg's entire gross domestic product. If they were liquidated and sprinkled around, it would amount to more than $100,000 per acre in this tiny country of 1,000 square miles that lacks a single Walmart store. Walmart has so much wealth in Luxembourg, in fact, that it could pay several times over to plaster the entire country in Nexus Granite Self-Adhesive Vinyl Floor Tiles, which sell at Walmart for $8.99 per box.

Since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.

In fact, most Luxembourgers can afford flooring that's considerably more posh. A primary source of the luxe in this city-state of some 500,000 people is its corporate tax rate. Between 2010 and 2013, Walmart reported paying less than 1 percent in tax to Luxembourg on $1.3 billion in profits. Walmart also generates $1.5 billion worth of tax deductions in Luxembourg each year by making "phantom interest payments" to its home office in the United States, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. These benefits may explain why, since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.

Walmart disputed the report's findings: "This is the same union-supported group that regularly issues flawed reports on Walmart to promote their agenda rather than the facts," the company said in a statement to USA Today. "This latest report includes incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers." But the retailing giant did not go into any further detail.

UPDATE 6:00 p.m. PST: In an email to Mother Jones, a Walmart representative detailed the company's objections to the report:

When calculating total assets, this calculation incorrectly includes intercompany assets, primarily investment in our wholly-owned subsidiaries and intercompany loans which both eliminate on consolidation.  The methodology is flawed and based upon statutory reports prior to intercompany eliminations which occur during consolidation.

As disclosed in our last form 10K (footnote 14), the Walmart International segment has total assets after intercompany eliminations of $80.5 billion, the vast majority of which are retail store buildings, fixtures, inventory and distribution facilities physically located in the countries where we serve customers.

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Goldman Sachs to Summer Interns: Don't Stay in the Office Overnight

| Wed Jun. 17, 2015 3:49 PM EDT

By Olivia Oran

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc has told its summer investment banking interns not to stay in the office overnight in a bid to improve working conditions for its junior staff.

The move, according to company sources and confirmed by a Goldman spokesman, illustrates how Wall Street banks are seeking to curb excessive hours worked by young employees who see internships and entry-level jobs as a chance for a lucrative investment banking career.

Goldman has told its new crop of summer banking interns they should be out of the office between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m. during the week.

Goldman and other banks have taken steps over the last several years to encourage junior employees, known as analysts and associates, to take time off in a profession notorious for all-nighters and 100-hour work weeks.

The moves came after the death of a Bank of America Corp intern in London in 2013 fueled concerns over working excessive hours. It was later revealed the intern died of natural causes.

Soon after, Goldman told its junior bankers to take Saturdays off and also formed a task force to address quality of life issues.

Bank of America said at the time it would recommend junior employees take off a minimum of four weekend days per month.

Wall Street summer interns are typically college juniors who work as analysts and business school students who serve as associates.

Goldman has more than 2,900 summer interns this year.

Goldman ranked as the top worldwide M&A adviser last year, according to Thomson Reuters data. The bank advised on 449 deals with a total value of $983.9 billion.

 

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Here's the Latest Evidence of How Private Prisons Are Exploiting Inmates for Profit

| Wed Jun. 17, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

The for-profit prison industry sells itself as a cost-effective option for cash-strapped states, but according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin, privatized prisons are keeping inmates locked up longer in order to boost profits.

Researcher Anita Mukherjee studied eight years* of data from Mississippi, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and found that private prisons there doled out twice the amount of infractions against inmates, lengthening their sentences by an average of two or three months. The extra time, Mukherjee found, adds up to an increase of about $3,000 in additional costs per prisoner. Mukherjee also noted that inmates housed in private prisons were more likely to wind up back in the system after being released—despite industry claims of lower recidivism rates.

The study, which compares length of stays in private and public prisons, is not the first to highlight strategies undertaken by the private prison industry to raise returns for stockholders. Last year, Christopher Petrella, a researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, accused the Corrections Corporation of America of including provisions in its contracts with governments to keep the most costly inmates—those with health issues—from being transferred to its prisons. Through open records requests, Petrella found there were 14 different exclusion criteria, including disabled or elderly inmates, those who were HIV-positive, or anyone with "sensitive medical conditions and/or high risk diagnoses."

Today, the $5 billion private prison industry houses close to 20 percent of federal inmates.

Looking specifically at California prisons, Petrella highlights how health expenditures are among the largest costs, second only to security, and account for 31 percent of the overall budget. But, private prisons set up contracts that say they only will house the youngest, healthiest—and cheapest—prisoners.

These details, Petrella writes, failed to make their way into a Temple University cost analysis often cited by the industry as proof that privatization produces cost savings. The economists behind the study were funded by three of the largest prison companies in the United States—a fact they failed to disclose when the study was first published.

Other studies have had similar findings: An analysis by the Arizona Department of Corrections in 2011 found that most prisoners were no less costly when housed in private prisons, and that some cost up to $1,600 more each year than those in public prisons. A cost analysis by the University of Utah in 2007 showed cost savings from private prisons were minimal at best.

Between 2000 and 2010 the number of inmates serving sentences in private prisons doubled. Today, the $5 billion industry houses close to 20 percent of federal prisoners and about 7 percent of state prisoners, and private prisons are increasingly being used as immigration detention centers.

*The time period of the data has been corrected.

Ben Carson Barely Has a Campaign and He's Still Winning

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

Ben Carson's presidential campaign is in chaos. His deputy campaign manager quit to return to his farm. His general counsel just went on a safari. His campaign chairman left almost as soon as Carson announced his candidacy to work on a pro-Carson super-PAC—one of three outside outfits supporting Carson's run, while at the same time competing with each other for money and volunteers. Carson, meanwhile, is continuing to travel the country giving paid speeches—an unusual move for a candidate.

He's also leading the entire Republican field, according to the most recent poll of the race from Monmouth:

Monmouth University

It's early—the first meaningful votes won't be cast until January. But Carson's strategy of not really campaigning hasn't hurt him yet. He's actually jumped four points in the polls since his non-campaign began.

Donald Trump Is Running For President and It's Going to Be So Hilarious

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 11:46 AM EDT

Here's his announcement: