Political MoJo

Hillary Clinton Threads the Needle: Obama's Done Okay But Economic Benefits Need to Be "Broadly Shared"

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 3:14 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton doesn't think much of her old employer. "Congress increasingly...is living in an evidence free zone," she said Thursday, "where what the reality is in the lives of Americans is so far from the minds of too many." Speaking on a panel about women and economics hosted by the Center for American Progress (a liberal think tank run by Clinton's ex-policy advisor Neera Tanden), Clinton gave a few hints of which domestic policy proposals could anchor her presumed 2016 presidential campaign.

Speaking in non-partisan terms, Clinton slammed Congress for its lack of action on raising the minimum wage, with the former secretary of state saying that a failure to boost the wages of the working poor is particularly damaging for women. She noted that two-thirds of minimum wage jobs are held by women. "The floor is collapsing—we talk about a glass ceiling, these women don't even have a secure floor under them," she said.

Boosting the minimum wage has become a standard Democratic talking point. But Clinton went beyond that standard fare and emphasized the plight of tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, bartenders, and hair stylists. "Women hold nearly three-quarters of the jobs that are reliant on tips," she said. "And in fact, they don't get the minimum wage with the tips on top of it."

Although the federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 per hour since 2009, there is an exemption carved out for workers who receive tips. Employers only have to pay those people $2.13 an hour (steady since 1991); the tips are presumed to make up for the difference. But often times the tips don't suffice, and employers, who are supposed to fill the gap, don't always do so.

These workers are "at the mercy not only of customers who can decide or not to tip," Clinton said. "They're at the mercy of their employers who may collect the tips and not turn them back."

Clinton didn't dive into the policy details on how to fix this problem. But the Center for American Progress released a report right after the event that suggested raising the tipped wage up to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage (which the report proposed bumping to $10.10 per hour).

The general tone of Clinton's speech suggested how she'd thread the needle by supporting President Barack Obama's record while crafting her own agenda when she hits the campaign trail. "The president came in—he deserves an enormous amount of credit for stanching the bleeding and preventing a further deterioration and getting us out of that ditch we were in," she said. "But we know that unless we change our policies, a lot of the benefits are not going to be broadly shared, and that's what we're talking about here."

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This Restaurant Is Trying To Be The Worst One on Yelp

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 2:34 PM EDT

Botto Bistro wants to be the worst-reviewed restaurant on Yelp. Fed up with the site's alleged manipulation of consumer reviews, owners David Cerretini and Michele Massimo have been offering a 25 percent discount at their Bay Area Italian eatery for each excoriating Yelp review, the Richmond Standard reports. Here are some recent entries from Botto Bistro's Yelp page:

Yelp has for years been accused of soliciting money from mom-and-pop restaurant owners in exchange for hiding negative customer reviews. In response to a lawsuit over the alleged practice, a court recently ruled that Yelp has the legal right to manipulate reviews and engage in "hard bargaining"—practices restaurant owners have called extortion. Yelp denies that it accepts money to alter or suppress reviews.

According to Inside Scoop SF, Yelp's only response to Botto Bistro has been a boilerplate email from its customer service division (see below), to which the restaurant sent a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder:

Inside Scoop SF

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 18, 2014

Thu Sep. 18, 2014 8:26 AM EDT

US Marines prepare to conduct a simulated raid in Hawaii, part of their pre-deployment training cycle.(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan)

The Walmart Heirs Give a Measly Amount to Charity

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 5:30 AM EDT
Jim, Alice, and Rob Walton at 2012 Walmart shareholders' meeting

The Walmart heirs are infamous for their wealth and penny-pinching. Christy, Jim, Alice, and Rob Walton wouldn't be the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-richest Americans, respectively, if not for Walmart's relentless exploitation of its low-wage workers. But the Waltons' stinginess also extends to their philanthropy. According to a new analysis by the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign, the Walton scions give way less money to charity than other über-rich Americans. In fact, the six other richest Americans have each donated many times more money to philanthropic causes than all four Walton heirs combined:

Making Change at Walmart

Typically, the extremely wealthy give a higher portion of their incomes to charity than middle and upper-middle income Americans. After all, you can only buy so many yachts, vacation homes, and Teslas before you start to look for other ways to spend money. But that doesn't seem to be true for the Waltons, who've redefined what it means to be a Scrooge. Americans' average net worth is about $650,000 per household (the median is only about $70,000), and the average annual charitable donation is about $3,000 per household. Meanwhile, the average Walton has a net worth of $36 billion and gives about $730,000 to charity each year. This means that the four richest Waltons have, on average, a net worth that's 55,000 times higher than that of the average American household, yet give, as a percent of that wealth, about 1/230th as much to charity in a typical year:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 17, 2014

Wed Sep. 17, 2014 8:43 AM EDT

US Army soldiers prepare to board a CH-47F Chinook with the Flying Dragons task force, which searches for illegal weapons in compounds in Afghanistan. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

This Republican Tried To Stop North Carolina From Apologizing For A Racist Massacre. He’d Like Your Vote, Please.

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 3:37 PM EDT
North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis with state Rep. Ruth Samuelson.

In 1898, furious that a mixed-race coalition had swept the city's municipal elections, white supremacists burned down a black-owned newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina; overthrew the local government; and killed at least 25 black residents in a week of rioting. It was one of the worst single incidents of racially motivated violence in American history. But in 2007, when a nonpartisan commission recommended that the state legislature pass a resolution formally apologizing for the massacre, Republican Senate nominee Thom Tillis, then a first-term state representative, rose to block it.

"It is time to move on," he wrote in a message to constituents. "In supporting the apology for slavery, most members felt it was an opportunity to recognize a past wrong and move on to pressing matters facing our State. HB 751 and others in the pipeline are redundant and they are consuming time and attention that should be dedicated to addressing education, transportation, and immigration problems plaguing this State."

But at the time, Tillis—who showed up in Wilmington on Tuesday with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in tow—offered another explanation for opposing the measure: Not all whites had participated in the riots. So Tillis pushed for an amendment introduced by a fellow state representative that would have added language to the bill commemorating the heroic white Republican lawmakers who had opposed the violence. "The proposed amendment would have acknowledged the historical fact that the white Republican government joined with black citizens to oppose the rioters," he argued. The amendment failed, and Tillis ended up voting no on the final version.

Although North Carolina has been targeted by the GOP as a top pickup opportunity, Tillis has struggled to gain traction—in part because of his leadership role in the unpopular state legislature. In the most recent poll, he trailed Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent, by nine points.

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Even Liberia's Legislature Can't Escape the Ravages of Ebola

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 3:30 PM EDT
The chambers of the Liberian legislature

Of all the countries doing battle with Ebola, Liberia has been dealt the gravest blow. According to the World Health Organization, the impoverished West African nation now accounts for about half of all documented cases. And more than 1,200 residents are known or suspected to have died from the disease. In late August, the government quarantined an entire neighborhood for ten days to prevent the outbreak from spreading.

Now the virus is forcing Liberian lawmakers to put their own work on hold.

On Monday, Liberia's legislature announced that the House of Representatives had canceled an "extraordinary sitting" to discuss the outbreak because its own chamber had been tainted by "a probable case of Ebola" and was being sprayed down with chlorine. The statement didn't specify the source of the infection, but it noted that one of the chamber's doormen had recently died after a "short illness."

Liberia is ill-equipped to fight off the Ebola outbreak. Its entire national budget for 2013-2014 was $553 million, with only $11 million allotted for health care—about what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are estimated to have spent on their Bel Air mansion in 2012.

Despite its meager resources, last month Liberia's legislature allocated $20 million to battle the virus. But the nation had already burned through a quarter of that money by the first week of September. On Tuesday, United Nations officials pleaded with the international community to step up assistance to Liberia and neighboring countries, saying it will take $1 billion in aid to keep the number of cases in the region confined to the "tens of thousands."

Rand Paul to Appear at Event Featuring Neo-Confederate Aide He Had to Fire

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 2:29 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (left) and former Paul aide Jack Hunter.

This week, the Ron Paul-led Campaign for Liberty hosts its fourth annual Liberty Political Action Conference, and the speaking list features a roster of well-known Republican politicians and libertarian activists. The biggest draw of this year's LPAC will undoubtedly be Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who each day inches closer to a 2016 presidential run. Slated to speak at the same event, though, is Paul's ex-aide Jack Hunter, who the senator fired after his past as a neo-Confederate advocate was revealed.

Hunter used to be the social media director in Paul's Senate office, and he co-wrote Paul's 2010 book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. But in 2013, the Washington Free Beacon revealed that Hunter, under a different identity, had long been involved with the neo-Confederate and southern secessionist movements. For 13 years, Hunter was a South Carolina talk radio host who called himself the "Southern Avenger." In public, he wore a luchador mask bearing a Confederate flag. As the Avenger, Hunter made many a provocative remark, including arguably racist comments. He said that John Wilkes Booth's heart was "in the right place" and that he celebrated Booth's birthday every year. He claimed that Abraham Lincoln would have been romantically drawn to Adolf Hitler. He called the NAACP a "malicious hate group" on par with the KKK. He contended that a "non-white majority America would simply cease to be America."

Hunter also chaired an organization called the League of the South, which advocated "the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic." The Free Beacon reported,

"The League of the South is an implicitly racist group in that the idealized version of the South that they promote is one which, to use their ideology, is dominated by 'Anglo-Celtic' culture, which is their code word for 'white,'" said Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research at the [Anti-Defamation League]. The ADL said it does not necessarily classify it as a hate group.

The League of the South maintains that it is not racist and does not discriminate in terms of membership.

"When I was part of it, they were very explicit that's not what they were about," Hunter told the Free Beacon. "I was a young person, it was a fairly radical group—the same way a person on the left might be attracted in college to some left-wing radical groups."

After Hunter was unmasked, Paul said that his Southern Avenger commentaries were "stupid" and canned him. A few months later, Hunter wrote a story titled "Confessions of a Right-Wing Shock Jock" and distanced himself from his old comments. "I said many terrible things," he wrote. "I disavow them."

Now, Hunter is back in the fold and back on the speaker's list in the liberty movement presided over by Ron and Rand Paul. The Campaign for Liberty bills him as "the one and only Jack Hunter." Hard to argue with that.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 15, 2014

Mon Sep. 15, 2014 10:49 AM EDT

A US Marine carries a round back to his gun in Hawaii for a fire mission. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Victor A. Mancilla)

Unredacted Court Docs Reveal Yahoo's Name and Other Top-Secret Stuff

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 4:59 PM EDT

Yahoo has just released 1,500 pages of previously classified documents relating to its legal challenge to the government's warrantless wiretapping program. Yahoo lost the case in 2008 and was ordered to cooperate with National Security Agency or face a $250,000 fine for every day that it withheld its customers' data. The ruling in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was released to the public only in heavily redacted form, became a legal precedent for the warrantless wiretapping program that was later revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Today, based on a successful appeal by Yahoo, a slightly less redacted version of that court ruling finally became public.

Below, I've posted the more lightly redacted version released today as well as the redacted version of the ruling released in 2008. A side-by-side reading of the two documents may offer some insight into how the government has sought to cover up the true nature of its surveillance activities, or it might just be an example of how little has changed.

The new version of the ruling is notable for what it doesn't disclose: Key evidence presented by the government. A block of text that had previously been removed from the ruling still does not fully explain why warrantless searches are necessary to thwart terrorists:

Scanning the 1,500 pages of newly unsealed documents will take a while. Here are few examples of new information contained in the partially unredacted ruling:

  • The name of the plaintiff (Yahoo) and its law firm
  • A footnote defining the term "surveillance" to mean "acquisitions of foreign intelligence information." But part of the definition of the term still remains redacted.
  • The date when the government moved to force Yahoo to comply with the order (November 21, 2007)
  • A mention of "linking procedures" (defined as "procedures that link [redacted] targets.") as a one of the safeguards against unreasonable searches

You can help us out by pointing out any other interesting tidbits in the comments; we'll note additional highlights here if we find anything worth noting.

The slightly less redacted ruling released today:

 

 

 

The original redacted court ruling: