Political MoJo

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell Convicted on Corruption Charges

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 3:04 PM EDT

A jury found former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 counts of corruption on Thursday, ending a bizarre trial that featured bad shrimp, a broken marriage, and non-FDA approved dietary supplements. McDonnell's wife, Maureen, was found guilty on eight charges.

The charges stemmed from the couple's relationship with Johnnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific, Inc., a pharmaceutical company. Williams, dubbed the "tic-tac man" by the governor's staff, was pushing two new drugs, Antabloc and CigRx, and needed help getting the pills into doctors' offices. He lavished gifts on the McDonnells, paying for their daughter's wedding, taking Maureen on shopping sprees, and letting the couple borrow his "James Bond car"—an Aston Martin—for vacations. At one point, he bid against himself at a charity auction to win a free weekend with Maureen. In turn, the McDonnells became Star Scientific boosters. Maureen went so far as to pitch Antabloc to prospective first lady Ann Romney, telling her it could help her MS.

What's there to say about the trial? BuzzFeed's Katherine Miller has the fullest summation of what happened, but let's just call it a mess, a soap opera, the world's worst "Modern Love" column in legalese. It was also a useful corrective to the facade politicians sometimes present when they trot their families in front of the cameras before trying to legislate yours. McDonnell, whose master's thesis at Pat Robertson's Regent University made the case for covenant marriage and subservient roles for wives, built his defense on the theory that his own union was too much of a failure for him and his wife to mount a conspiracy. According to the governor, his wife was a paranoid loon who had a crush on the businessman who bought her nice dresses.

At one point, a former aide to Maureen McDonnell—who called the former first lady a "nutbag"—testified that she had received a text message from the governor's wife alleging that the couple's chef was attempting to ruin Christmas by serving them bad shrimp. Fed up with the McDonnells (who had accused him of stealing food), the chef, Todd Schneider, handed a trove of documents to federal investigators in 2012 that led to the probe. The lesson, as always, is to be nice to the people who prepare your food.

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Fast-Food Workers Arrested In Fight For $15 Minimum Wage

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 10:45 AM EDT
Police officers arrest a protester in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York's Times Square on Thursday.

On Thursday, nearly two years after fast-food employees first walked off the job in New York City, workers in dozens of cities around the country are staging a new round of strikes aimed at winning workers a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union. This spate of walk-outs will see a significant escalation in tactics: home healthcare workers will join the day of action, and some workers will engage in civil disobedience. Several have already been arrested.

"On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15," Terrence Wise, a Kansas City Burger King employee and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee, said in a statement earlier this week.

Employees at restaurant chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Burger King are walking off the job and staging sit-ins in 150 cities nationwide, from Chicago to Oakland, Pittsburg to Seattle. During the last one-day strike in May, workers protested in 150 US cities and 80 foreign cities, forcing several franchises to close for part of the day.

So far, the massive chains have been resistant to bumping up workers’ wages. Nevertheless, the movement has dealt some serious setbacks to one of the biggest fast-food employers: McDonald's. The company's public image was tarnished significantly between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent study quantifying companies’ reputations. McDonald's sales have fallen over the past year amid ramped up scrutiny from Congress over its poverty wages. And in July, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s corporate can be held liable in worker lawsuits over wage-theft and working conditions. (The company had been arguing that it does not exert significant control over its franchises’ employment practices.)

The Service Employees Industrial Union, which has backed the workers from the start, hopes the addition of some of the nation’s 2 million home healthcare aides to the growing movement will put additional pressure on states and localities to raise their minimum wage.

On Labor Day, President Barack Obama gave the fast-food worker movement a morale boost. "All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity," the president said. "There is no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise."

Idaho Professor Accidentally Shoots Himself While Teaching Class

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 11:45 AM EDT

Allowing college students and faculty to carry guns on campus makes everybody safer, right?

If you answered that the way the NRA does, then maybe consider what just happened at Idaho State University on Tuesday afternoon: A professor was wounded when the gun he had in his pocket accidentally went off. According to local news outlet KIDK, the professor (who had a concealed-carry permit but hasn't been identified at this point) was in the middle of teaching class when he literally shot himself in the foot:

Around 4 p.m. Tuesday, Public Safety received a call about an accidental discharge of a concealed weapon in the Physical Science building. A student said the gun went off in the middle of the class.

Police said the small-caliber handgun was in the professor's pants pocket and was not displayed at any time. They said the professor was able to leave of his own accord. He was treated and released from the hospital.

In March, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a bill into law allowing permit holders to bring their guns onto public college and university campuses, despite polls showing overwhelming opposition from students and education leaders in the state. As the Idaho Statesman noted at the time, "Aside from perhaps agriculture, the NRA is the most powerful interest group in the Idaho Republican Party."

How did a 9-year-old girl end up killing with an Uzi? And why did the NRA promote fun for kids with guns in the aftermath? See all of our latest coverage here, and our award-winning special reports.


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/03/12/3076771_otter-signs-campus-guns-bill-into.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

The Arab World's Version of the Ice Bucket Challenge: Burning ISIS Flags

| Wed Sep. 3, 2014 10:44 AM EDT

On Saturday, three Lebanese young men in Beirut protested the Islamic State by burning the extremist group's flag, a black banner emblazoned with the Muslim tenet "there is no god but God and Muhammed is his prophet." The teens then posted a video of the flag-burning online, exhorting others to do the same to demonstrate their opposition to the movement led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In recent weeks, the Islamic State has allegedly beheaded a Lebanese army sergeant and kidnapped about 20 Lebanese soldiers. The flag-burning campaign, modeled on the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge," quickly took off on social media under the hashtag #BurnISISFlagChallenge. "I nominate the whole world to #Burn_ISIS_Flag_Challenge. You have 24 hours. GO!!" wrote one Lebanese YouTube user.

Though the campaign hasn't spread throughout the world yet, it has received considerable attention in Lebanon, where many citizens have rallied behind the cause. But some Lebanese officials are not happy about the protest. Lebanese Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi has called for the "sternest punishment" for the flag burners for their "insult" to the Islamic religion and its symbols. He contends the flag is a religious relic, not a symbol of the Islamic State. And he claimed the flag-burning could "stir up sectarian conflicts" and, consequently, was illegal under Lebanese law, according to newspaper Asharq al-Aswat.

Nabil Naqoula, a member of Lebanon's Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, took issue with Rifi and maintained that the protesters who started the movement did not intend "to insult the Islamic religion." Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of the same group, offered legal support to the three young men who launched the flag-burning frenzy if they are charged with a crime.

The Islamic State's flag has flown everywhere from a Chicago motorists' window last Wednesday as he made bomb threats against the police, to the streets of Tabqa in northeast Syria where the extremist group seized a military airbase. The black banner has become synonymous with the group's radical violence and mercilessness. 

Here are a few examples of Lebanese activists taking the flag-burning challenge:

Powerful Reporting From Steven Sotloff, the Second Journalist ISIS Executed

| Tue Sep. 2, 2014 5:27 PM EDT

Steven Sotloff (center with black helmet) talks to Libyan rebels on the Al Dafniya front line near in Misrata, Libya in 2011.

A video released today appeared to confirm the worst fears for the fate of captured American journalist Steven Sotloff: a beheading at the hands of Islamic State extremists. The video's authenticity has not yet been confirmed by US officials, but the New York Times reports that Sotloff's family believes he has been killed. If so, that means the 31-year-old Sotloff—who went missing a year ago while reporting in Syria—becomes the second American journalist executed by the Islamic State.

Last month, a video surfaced showing ISIS fighters executing American journalist James Foley. Many on the Internet seethed that the gruesome circumstances of his death appeared to overshadow his important work. The same shouldn't happen to Sotloff. Ignore the sensational headlines and instead explore some of the brave, intelligent journalism he devoted his life to producing:

"Syrian Purgatory": In this 2013 piece for Foreign Policy, Sotloff traveled to a Syrian refugee camp to report on the hundreds of thousands displaced by the civil war there. His chilling opening sets the tone for a story about the plight of refugees and the pitfalls of humanitarian aid: "It was less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the winter wind cut to the bone. When I asked why she didn't have a blanket like everyone else at the Atmeh refugee camp, [Um Ibrahim] shrugged and looked down. 'I sold it to buy bread for my children.'"

"From Bread Lines to Front Lines:" Again in Foreign Policy, Sotloff went to Aleppo—one of the most devastated cities in Syria—to show how traumatic the daily lives of ordinary Syrians had become by late 2012. "The 21-month long Syrian revolution is taking its toll on residents of the country’s largest city," he wrote. "With everything from medicine to firewood in scarce supply, and with winter bringing temperatures down to near freezing, people here are struggling to cope with a war they just hope will end."

"The Other 9/11: Libyan Guards Recount What Happened in Benghazi:" For this TIME article, Sotloff—who covered Libya extensively for the magazine—interviewed Libyan security guards present when the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked. The result is a vivid, meticulous timeline of the events of September 11, 2012. One example: "Abdullah ran towards the cantina east of C villa where a grenade exploded nearby. 'I remember the shrapnel that landed in my leg was very hot and I was shaken, a bit dizzy,' he recalled. A group of attackers then passed him on the way to encircling the cantina. They shot him twice in the leg. Others beat him so hard he lost consciousness."

"Libya's New Crisis: A Wave of Assassinations Targeting Its Top Cops:" Here, Sotloff reported on the deadly aftershocks of the Benghazi attacks. In explaining the rash of killings of major Libyan security officials, Sotloff paints a compelling picture of the deterioration of post-Qaddafi Libya. "But the biggest loser today is a Libyan state stumbling from one crisis to the next," he writes. "The government has not investigated the bombings and no one has been prosecuted."

"The Alawite Towns That Support Syria's Assad—in Turkey:" TIME featured some of Sotloff's early reporting on the war in Syria. In 2012, he traveled to Turkey to report on Turkish Alawites' support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In doing so, he put himself in the thick of anti-American protests. "When an American journalist stops to ask about the group's activities, though, a burly man in his 30s hisses him away, shouting, "America is funding terrorists in Syria!'"

Surprise! Eric Cantor Lands $3.4 Million Job on Wall Street

| Tue Sep. 2, 2014 12:56 PM EDT

After Rep. Eric Cantor lost his primary to a tea party challenger in June, he could have stayed on as a lame duck, collecting his salary and voting as a full member of Congress through January 2015. Instead, Cantor decided to step down from his job as the GOP's majority leader and resign his seat early. Cantor claimed that the decision to call it quits was in the interests of his constituents. "I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session," Cantor said at the time, explaining that he'd timed his decision so his replacement could be seated as soon as possible.

No one believed it—on August 1, the Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney and Eliot Nelson wrote that voters would soon hear about "Eric Cantor's forthcoming finance job." A month later, their prediction has proven true: On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cantor will soon start work at Moelis & Co, an investment bank. Cantor—whose experience prior to becoming a professional politician largely consisted of working in the family real estate development business—will earn a hefty salary for his lack of expertise: According to Business Insider, he's set to make $3.4 million from the investment firm. "Mr. Moelis said he is hiring Mr. Cantor for his "judgment and experience" and ability to open doors—and not just for help navigating regulatory and political waters in Washington," the Journal reported.

Democrats sell out, too. In 2010, former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh announced his plans to retire in 2010 in a New York Times op-ed that bemoaned the lack of bipartisan friendships in the modern Senate and attacked the influence of money in politics. Yet shortly after he left Congress, Bayh signed up with law firm McGuireWoods and private equity firm Apollo Global Management and began acting as a lobbyist for corporate clients in all but name. Less than a year later, he joined the US Chamber of Commerce as an adviser. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) pulled a similar trick, promising "no lobbying, no lobbying," before taking a $1-million-plus job as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood's main lobbying group.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 417 ex-lawmakers hold lobbyist or lobbyist-like jobs.

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Russia Is Going After McDonald’s. (Can We Give Them Jack in the Box?)

| Fri Aug. 29, 2014 3:28 PM EDT
A McDonalds in St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia's health inspection agency is scrutinizing more than 100 McDonald's locations and has forced the company to temporarily close multiple others in the country. The agency says McDonalds outlets are getting inspected because some have violated sanitary regulations— but others see retaliation for US sanctions on Russia.

"This is a prominent symbol of the U.S. It has a lot of restaurants and therefore is a meaningful target," Yulia Bushueva, managing director for Arbat Capital, an investment advisory company, told Bloomberg. "I don't recall McDonald's having consumer-safety problems of such a scale in over more than two decades of presence in Russia."

McDonald's was the first fast food chain to enter Russia, and it holds some symbolic importance in the country. The first location opened in Pushkin Square in Moscow in January 1990 to one utterly massive line (see video below). This was shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but nearly two years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union when Western brands of any stripe were a rare sight in Russia. At the time, the site of the Golden Arches in the center of Moscow signaled the arrival of a new era of prosperity and integration with the world economy.

Today, there are more than 400 McDonald's outlets in the country. Many are owned locally. The company employs more than 37,000 people in Russia and sources 85 percent of its products from Russian suppliers, according to its website.

But as Russia and the West began facing off over Ukraine this spring, McDonald's has fallen victim to their power struggle. In April, McDonald's announced it would close it's three company-owned locations in Crimea "due to operational reasons beyond our control," according to their statement to Reuters.

That decision was praised by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a prominent legislator and Putin supporter, who suggested the chain should leave Russia as well. "It would be good if they closed here too, if they disappeared for good," he said in Russian media. "Pepsi-Cola would be next." Zhirinovsky also proposed instructing members of his Liberal Democratic party to picket outside McDonald's until they closed.

Since August 20, McDonald's has temporarily closed 12 locations throughout Russia, including four in Krasnodar, near the black sea, and the iconic first-ever location in Moscow. Burger King, Subway, and KFC— which have all seen big expansions in Russia in recent years— have remained unscathed.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 29, 2014

Fri Aug. 29, 2014 9:08 AM EDT

US Marines exit the well deck of the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class RJ Stratchko)

This is What a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Looks Like

| Thu Aug. 28, 2014 1:56 PM EDT

It has become quite hard for Vladimir Putin to deny that Russia's activities in Eastern Europe aren't benign. On Thursday, Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, announced that "Russian forces have actually entered Ukraine." And at a State Department briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Russia's activities "an incursion and a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty."

The most striking evidence comes from NATO, which has released satellite photos of what it calls "concrete examples of Russian activity inside Ukraine."

Digital Globe/NATO

According to NATO, the image above depicts a Russian convoy carrying artillery in Krasnodon, an area of Ukraine currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists, on August 21.

Digital Globe/NATO

This shows artillery setting up in firing positions in Krasnodon. "This configuration is exactly how trained military professionals would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers," a NATO press release notes.

Digital Globe/NATO

This image shows side-by-side photos of Rostov-on-Don, about 31 miles from the Ukrainian border, taken two months apart. The photo on the left, taken on June 19, shows the area mostly empty. The photo on the right shows the same area on August 20 occupied with tanks and other armored vehicles, cargo trucks, and tents. These units "are capable of attacking with little warning, and could potentially overwhelm and push-back Ukrainian units," according to NATO.

Digital Globe/NATO

According to NATO, this image shows Russian six artillery pieces, probably 6-inch howitzers, positioned six miles south of the Ukrainian border. The guns are pointed toward Ukraine.

Ex-George Washington University President Responds to Controversy Over His Sexual Assault Remarks

| Thu Aug. 28, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

A former university president came under fire this week for the advice he gave on how to combat sexual assault on college campuses. On Tuesday, George Washington University President Emeritus Stephen Trachtenberg appeared on NPR's Diane Rehm Show and said, "Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave." Critics pounced. Jezebel slammed his comments as "jaw-droppingly stupid," and the website noted, "If this is the attitude freely and blithely expressed by a former University President, it's no wonder that more than 75 schools are currently under investigation by the Department of Education for botching sexual assault investigations."

The following day, Trachtenberg told the school newspaper, The GW Hatchet, that his remarks had been taken "out of context," but he reiterated his main point: "What I'm saying is you want to have somebody you care about like your daughter, granddaughter or girlfriend to understand her limits because she will be less likely to be unable to fight off somebody who is attacking her."

On Thursday, Mother Jones asked Trachtenberg to comment on the ongoing controversy, and he replied with a written statement. Regarding Jezebel, he said:

Jezebel has a world view that informs their prose. They are an advocate for an important cause and they take every opportunity to make their case. Sometimes in their enthusiasm they may get a little overheated. It's hard to resist an apparent opportunity when you believe you are on the side of the angels. 

In response to other questions—including why he chose to use the word "misbehave" to describe sexual assault—Trachtenberg said:

I chose that word because I was thinking and speaking quickly under time constraints on a radio show. Under different circumstances I might have used another perhaps stronger word. I am an educator. I believe in the power of education. I think that education about drinking and its effects on an individual can help protect that person from vulnerability. Knowledge makes one stronger. I also believe that having skills gives one power. If you know how to defend yourself you have strength that can be helpful in the event things turn physical. These two ideas are not meant to solve all problems. They are not blame shifters. They are what they are. Better to know things then not. No silver bullets here. We need to educate men too. Date rape is largely the responsibility of young men and alcohol and opportunity. We can address these issues as a community. Men and women and institutions together. Victims should do their best but they are victims and not to blame. My recommendation is to change the culture of the campus so that men and women protect and nurture each other as a family would. It will take work but it can be done.

Is this an apology? You be the judge.