Political MoJo

Bill Clinton Gets Combative in Confrontation With Black Lives Matter Activists

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 5:07 PM EDT

Bill Clinton was interrupted by a group of Black Lives Matter activists as he gave a speech on behalf of his wife, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, in Philadelphia on Thursday. The exchange quickly turned combative.

As the organizers criticized Hillary Clinton's involvement in the infamous 1994 crime bill, her husband initially responded by claiming he welcomed protesters. Then he turned more confrontational, shouting poverty statistics to defend the trends that emerged from the policies he helped enact, such as harsher criminal sentencing and the gutting of welfare programs

"I love—look, at every campaign rally, I welcome the protesters," the former president said. "I had a guy in South Carolina interrupt me, and the crowd started booing him, and I said, 'No, let's be quiet and listen to him,' and let him say the same thing twice. I said, 'May I answer?' and he just kept screaming."

Clinton pleaded with the audience to "tell the whole story."

"I talked to a lot of African American groups, they thought black lives mattered," he said, referring to his crime bill. "They said to take this bill, because our kids are being shot in the street by gangs. We have 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals. She"—he pointed to a protester in the crowd—"don't want to hear any of that. You know what else she doesn't want to hear? Because of that bill, we had a 25-year low in crime, a 33[-year] low in the murder rate, and listen to this, because of that and the background check law, we had a 46-year low in the deaths of people by gun violence. And who you think those lives were? That mattered. Whose lives were saved?"

Clinton's remarks come almost a year after he renounced the very same crime bill, implying that he knew at the time that some of the sentencing provisions were too harsh, but that that concern was trumped by his desire to pass the overall bill. Clinton appeared to take the opposite stance on Thursday, asserting that the policies of his administration were worth it because of how many black lives were allegedly saved.

Amid chants of "HRC, HRC" from Hillary Clinton supporters in the crowd, Bill Clinton continued to shout statistics in an attempt to show the Philadelphia organizers that their anger was misplaced. Throughout his remarks, he repeatedly referred to some of the female protesters as "girls."

"I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African American children," Clinton said. "You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth."

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British Prime Minister David Cameron Comes Clean About "Panama Papers"

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 3:34 PM EDT

Just days after dismissing the revelation that his late father managed an offshore fund, calling it a "private matter," British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday admitted to having profited from the very same fund. According to Cameron, he sold his investments for £31,500 (around $44,300) before becoming Prime Minister.

"I want to be as clear as I can about the past, about the present, about the future because frankly I don't have anything to hide," Cameron told ITV News.

Cameron's admission contrasts with earlier statements he made concerning last weekend's massive Panama Papers leak. The 11.5 million files from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonesca traced a number of international leaders and their allies to complex offshore banking arrangements to avoid paying millions in taxes.

Since the leak, Cameron has repeatedly evaded reporters' questions about whether he profited from his father Ian Cameron's offshore trust. When asked by Sky News on Tuesday about whether he benefited from the fund at the time, or stood to earn profits in the future, Cameron only answered in present day terms: "I have no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that."

Cameron's concession is the latest development in the "Panama Papers" leak. After being named in the documents, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and Austrian banking CEO Michael Grahammer have both resigned from their posts. The offices of FIFA's newly-minted president have also been raided.

San Francisco Just Did Something Really Cool for Working Parents

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 3:42 PM EDT

On Tuesday, San Francisco became the first US city to require that all new parents—mothers, fathers, and same-sex partners—get fully paid parental leave for six weeks after giving birth or adopting a child. The new law follows the efforts by tech companies in the area, including Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter, to offer employees robust parental leave policies in an effort to increase work-life balance. 

California is one of only five states that already offers some form of parental leave, but this new city-wide law is one of the most generous in the country. Workers in the Golden State now get six weeks off, but they receive just 55 percent of their pay. New Jersey and Rhode Island have similar laws, and Washington state recently passed a parental leave law that has not taken effect. In March, the New York legislature approved a parental leave policy that will cover 12 weeks of paid time off, though the law will go into effect in 2018 and will initially cover only 50 percent of average pay.

The United States, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, is the only developed country that does not guarantee all new parents paid parental leave. Expectant mothers get 18 weeks of paid leave in Australia, 39 weeks in the United Kingdom, and 480 days in Sweden. 

For workers in both California and New York, paid parental leave was one of two victories this week. Governors in both states also signed legislation Monday that will increase the minimum wage in each state to $15 an hour, to be phased in over about seven years. The higher wages, which are more than double the federal minimum wage, will affect roughly 60 million Americans. President Barack Obama responded to the wage increases by asking Congress to follow suit.

"Since I first called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage in 2013, 18 states and more than 40 cities and counties have acted on their own—thanks to the strong leadership of elected officials, businesses, and workers who organized and fought so hard for the economic security families deserve," he said in a statement. "Now Congress needs to act to raise the federal minimum wage and expand access to paid leave for all Americans."

Cops Raid the Former Offices of FIFA's Brand-New President

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:27 PM EDT

Global soccer may be embroiled in yet another corruption crisis after Swiss police raided the offices of UEFA, the sport's European governing body, on Wednesday. The raid came days after Gianni Infantino, UEFA's former chief and the newly installed president of FIFA, appeared in the massive Panama Papers leak, which exposed the complex offshore banking arrangements of some of the world's most powerful people.

According to the Guardian, those documents show that Infantino co-signed a UEFA broadcast rights deal in 2006 with two Argentinian businessmen, Hugo and Marino Jinkis, who are now under indictment as part of the United States' global soccer corruption investigation. The men immediately resold the rights to Ecuador's TV station Teleamazonas at a steep markup, and the documents potentially tie Infantino to both that deal and other illicit acts by the Jinkis'.

Infantino was UEFA's director of legal services at the time, and he said in a statement yesterday that the contract was awarded properly and that he had no direct dealings with either of the two men or their company. "There is no indication whatsoever for any wrongdoings from neither UEFA nor myself in this matter," he said.

Infantino was only elected FIFA president in February, following months of scandal during which the US and Swiss authorities arrested a string of FIFA officials and the organization banned its former president, Sepp Blatter, from any soccer-related activities for six years.

At the time, Infantino promised to turn the page on FIFA's corruption problems and implement badly needed reforms. "We will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA, and everyone in the world will applaud us," he said after his election.

Notorious Coal Baron Don Blankenship Sentenced to a Year in Prison

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:20 PM EDT

A federal judge in West Virginia sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to a year in prison on Wednesday for conspiring to commit mine safety violations at his company's Upper Big Branch mine during a period leading up to the explosion there that left 29 miners dead in 2010.

The mountaintop estate where Blankenship once hosted visitors. Read MoJo's chronicle of Blankenship's rise and fall in West Virginia. Stacy Kranitz

Blankenship was convicted of the misdemeanor charge in December, but the conviction was explicitly not linked to the Upper Big Branch disaster itself and Blankenship's attorney worked hard to ensure the accident was hardly mentioned during the trial. And that verdict was a disappointment to prosecutors; he was found not guilty of the more serious felony charges of making false statements to federal regulators in the aftermath of the blast in order to boost Massey's stock price. (Had he been convicted on all counts, he would have faced up to 30 years in prison.) The conspiracy conviction rested on evidence of Blankenship's domineering management style, which emphasized profits over the federal mine safety laws designed to avert underground explosions:

[T]he attention to detail that made Blankenship such an effective bean counter may also be his undoing. He constantly monitored every inch of his operation and wrote memos instructing subordinates to move coal at all costs. "I could Krushchev you," he warned in a handwritten memo to one Massey official whose facilities Blankenship thought were underperforming. He called another mine manager "literally crazy" and "ridiculous" for devoting too many of his miners to safety projects. Despite repeated citations by the MSHA, Blankenship instructed Massey executives to postpone safety improvements: "We'll worry about ventilation or other issues at an appropriate time. Now is not the time." And this is only what investigators gleaned from the documents they could find: Hughie Stover, Blankenship's bodyguard and personal driver—and the head of security at Upper Big Branch—ordered a subordinate to destroy thousands of pages of documents, while the government's investigation was ongoing. (Stover was sentenced to three years in prison in 2012 for lying to federal investigators and attempting to destroy evidence.)

Before he stepped down as Massey's CEO in 2010, Blankenship had built the company into one of the largest coal producers in the United States and become a polarizing figure in his home state, where he bankrolled the rise of the Republican Party, pushed climate denial, and crushed unions. For more on Blankenship, read my piece from the magazine on his rise and fall.

Trump Says His Controversial Comment About Abortion Was "Excellent"

| Tue Apr. 5, 2016 3:49 PM EDT

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump ignited a firestorm last week when he said that he wants to outlaw abortion and punish women who obtain abortions anyway. He soon clarified his comment, suggesting that women who get abortions should not be penalized. But most recently, he doubled down on his initial statement.

Here's the chronology: During an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews last Wednesday, Trump said that abortion should be banned and that "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who obtain abortions once they are outlawed. Faced with immediate criticism from both anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights groups, his campaign issued a statement saying that Trump believed that only the abortion provider, not the woman, should be held legally responsible.

But a few days later, on Saturday, Trump essentially reaffirmed his initial comments. His answer to Matthews' question was "excellent," Trump told talk radio host Joe Pags, in an interview flagged on Tuesday by the liberal website Right Wing Watch. Here's the exchange:

TRUMP: A lot of people thought my answer was excellent, by the way. There were a lot of people who thought that was a very good answer. It was a hypothetical question. I didn't see any big deal and then all of a sudden there was somewhat of a storm. And you know, it's interesting, this morning I'm hearing two hosts on television that were critical and they said, "We really thought his first answer was very good." Because you can't win. "We thought it was good, what was wrong with his first answer?" And I heard a pastor, who is a fantastic pastor, saying, "Well, you know, if you think about it, his first answer was right"…

PAGS: Well, your answer was consistent with conservatism but Chris Matthews has an agenda, so I'm not even wondering about the question because I thought it was loaded and stupid and hypothetical.

TRUMP: It was disgraceful.

PAGS: Why go on the show? Why go?

TRUMP: I heard people defending it today. Now they defend it. Now they say, "It was really right." The whole thing is just so—look, the press is extremely unfair.

Trump, though, was not done with this subject. The next day, he had yet another position on abortion. He appeared on CBS's Face the Nation and stated that the current law on abortion should not be changed. Once again, his campaign had to renovate his message. It quickly walked back this statement, asserting that Trump meant the law will remain the same "until he is President."

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Law School Named After Scalia Deals With Awkward Acronym

| Tue Apr. 5, 2016 2:54 PM EDT

RIP #ASSLaw. RIP #ASSoL.

Last week, George Mason University announced that it was renaming its law school in honor of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Henceforth, students would attend the Antonin Scalia School of Law or, as the internet quickly (and gleefully) pointed out, ASSLaw—or ASSoL

It didn't take long for the school to tweak the name. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University" will be the official name, but the school's website and promotional materials will refer to the Antonin Scalia Law School. Take that, snarky acronym-mongers!

The decision to rename the school came after it received two major donations: an anonymous donor, who requested the name change to commemorate Scalia, gave $20 million, and the Charles Koch Foundation gave $10 million.

Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson Resigns in the Wake of "Panama Papers" Scandal

| Tue Apr. 5, 2016 12:27 PM EDT

Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson announced his resignation on Tuesday amid mounting public anger over evidence that he and his wife owned a secretive offshore company called Wintris that managed millions of dollars of investments in three Icelandic banks that collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis.

Calls to step down were sparked by this weekend's so-called "Panama Papers" leak, a massive trove of documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonesca that exposed a number of international leaders and their closest confidantes as participating in complex offshore banking arrangements. High-profile leaders linked to the leak include Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But Gunnlaugsson is the first leader ousted in the international fallout. The public outcry in Iceland is particularly intense due to lasting memories of the 2008 financial crisis, which paralyzed the country's economy, and sent shock waves around the world. And as our own Kevin Drum noted, Iceland was "ground zero for the European banking crisis."

Gunnlaugsson had initially insisted on staying in office. When questioned about his ties to Wintris on Monday, the visibly shaken prime minister was unable to properly respond and ended the interview. "You are asking me nonsense," he is heard telling the reporters conducting the interview.

In the days following the leak, mass demonstrations calling for Gunnlaugsson to step down were held outside Parliament. Some people were seen hurling yogurt at the building in protest:

GOP Pollster Tells Business Leaders How To “Combat” Their Own Empathy for Workers

| Mon Apr. 4, 2016 5:42 PM EDT

The passage of a $15-an-hour minimum wage in New York and California may have come as a shock to the Council of State Chambers, the umbrella group for America's notoriously anti-worker state chambers of commerce. But in a recent video briefing by LuntzGlobal, a Republican polling firm, the group got an even bigger shock: 80 percent of C-suite business executives surveyed by Luntz supported raising the minimum wage.

"A few helpful hints" for those who "want to give folks more benefits or more leave or more income."

That's not all: 73 percent of those execs supported more paid sick leave for workers—and 82 percent supported mandatory, paid paternity leave. Among state chamber members, support for mandatory paid paternity leave was even higher, at 89 percent.

During the call, a recording of which was obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, Luntz Managing Director David Merritt attributed the findings to "empathy."

"What do these results have in common?" he asked. "Well, quite frankly, they are all empathetic. If you ask about them in isolation, of course we want to take care of people who are caring for a loved one. Of course we want to give folks more benefits or more leave or more income."

But the people who actually run state chambers of commerce don't feel this way—at least not always. So Merritt went on to give "a few helpful hints on how to actually, um, combat these [feelings of empathy] in your state." Check it out:

New York Just Introduced the Best Paid Family Leave Policy in the Country

| Mon Apr. 4, 2016 2:20 PM EDT

Last Thursday, New York passed a historic bill to mandate guaranteed paid family leave for nearly everyone who holds a job in the Empire State. The new policy—which follows in the footsteps of only four other states with similar programs—is by far the most generous paid family leave plan in the country, guaranteeing 12 weeks paid time off for both men and women, including for part-time and full-time employees.

By comparison, California and New Jersey guarantee only six weeks of paid time off. In Rhode Island, workers are guaranteed only four weeks of partial pay. (Washington approved a program in 2007 but it hasn't gone into effect yet.)

New York's new law, as Rebecca Traister in New York Magazine describes it, is truly revolutionary. At the moment, federal law only guarantees US workers job protection for up to 12 weeks, but fails to provide even a single hour of paid time off for parents who face the challenges of caring for a newborn child or a sick family member. Both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders support changing the federal law to include such a paid leave mandate—but the issue faces a largely uphill battle due to Republican concerns of its potential damage to small businesses. Republicans also question how to fund such a federal program.

In New York, the program will go into effect starting in 2018 and will be paid for by paycheck deductions at 70 cents per week per every employee. That deduction will eventually go up to $1.40. The program comes as a major victory for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who fought for its passage on Thursday well into the final hours of announcing the state's annual budget, which also included a minimum wage hike to $15.

The benefit to men of the specifically outlined extension is also crucial, because it levels the playing field in the work-life balance debate and frees it from being an exclusively woman's issue.

"No parent wants to not be able to be with their child enough to invest in them and watch them grow and have them recognize you—and need you and love you," Anne-Marie Salughter said in a September interview with the Wharton School of Business. "That's not a gender issue. That's a parent issue."

In the past year, tech giants such as Facebook and Apple have gotten ahead of the debate by offering robust parental leave programs that put the federal impasse to shame. Just last month, Etsy joined the progressive movement by offering all new parents up to six months of paid leave.

With New York the latest state to ensure paid leave for its employees—and far more generously than its predecessors—and the growing number of high-profile companies competing to best one another with the same, perhaps federal law will begin to slowly transform as well.