Political MoJo

Facebook Is Being Sued for Gender and Racial Discrimination. Here's Why.

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:59 PM EDT

In a lawsuit filed against Facebook on Monday, former employee Chia Hong accused the company of gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and sex harassment.* She is represented by Lawless & Lawless, the same law firm representing Ellen Pao in the high-profile gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. (And yes, Lawless really is the last name of the two sisters who head the firm.)

Hong, who worked as a product manager at Facebook until October 2013, alleges that she suffered from discrimination by her boss, Anil Wilson, and dozens of other coworkers during her three years at the company. She also claims that she was wrongfully terminated after complaining about the harassment and discrimination.

The complaint states that Facebook employment policies were "neutral on their face" but "resulted in a disparate impact" on Hong, due to her gender:

The harassment included, but was not limited to, ANIL WILSON regularly ignoring or belittling plaintiff's professional opinions and input at group meetings in which she was the only woman or one of very few; asking plaintiff why she did not just stay home and take care of her child instead of having a career; admonishing plaintiff for taking one personal day per month to volunteer at her child' s school, which was permitted under company policy; ordering plaintiff to organize parties and serve drinks to male colleagues, which was not a part of plaintiff's job description and not something that was requested of males with whom she worked; and telling plaintiff he had heard she was an "order taker," by which he meant that she did not exercise independent discretion in the execution of her job duties.

It also alleges racial discrimination against her:

The discrimination included, but was not limited to, plaintiff having her professional opinions belittled or ignored at group meetings in which she was one of the only employees of Chinese descent; plaintiff being told that she was not integrated into the team because she looks different and talks differently than other team members, and plaintiff being replaced by a less qualified, less experienced Indian male.

This latest case comes as various Silicon Valley companies are struggling to diversify their conspicuously white, male workforces. According to a report issued by Facebook last June, 69 percent of its employees are male—including 77 percent among senior staff and 85 percent among its tech workers. The report also found that Facebook's overall workforce was 57 percent white and 34 percent Asian.

In a statement to TechCrunch on Wednesday about the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson refuted Hong's allegations: "We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we’ve made progress. In this case we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly."

Correction: The initial version of this post misstated the allegation as "sexual harassment."

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UVA Student's Violent Arrest Sparks Outrage and Calls for #JusticeForMartese

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 11:06 AM EDT

Images and footage capturing the arrest of Martese Johnson, a University of Virginia student who needed 10 stitches after being arrested by state liquor police for allegedly having a fake ID, prompted large protests at UVA's Charlottesville campus on Wednesday, with hundreds of students gathering to demand justice.

Johnson, 20-years-old and a member of the school's Honor Committee, was arrested on Tuesday by officers from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as bystanders recorded the bloody encounter. In one video, Johnson's head appears covered in blood, and he screams "you fucking racists." According to Johnson's lawyer, he was charged with "obstructing justice without force" and public intoxication.

After footage of the arrest emerged online, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe launched an investigation into the incident.

"Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter," his office said in a statement.

It is unclear what led to the arrest. A statement from the state's liquor agents said that "a determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning." On Wednesday night, Johnson joined the demonstrators and appeared with a gash wound to the head.

"His head was slammed into the hard pavement with excessive force," UVA officials said in a released statement. "This was wrong and should not have occurred. In the many years of our medical, professional and leadership roles at the University, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received."

As images of both the protest and Johnson's arrest flooded online with the hashtag #JusticeForMartese, demonstrators chanted "black lives matter" and "shut it down."

Even Life Insurance Actuaries Are Coming Around on Pot

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 12:48 PM EDT

A copy of Contingencies—the official magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries—came in the mail on Monday. I don't know why—I'm not an actuary; I'm not even in a celebrity death pool. But there's some interesting stuff in there. AAA president Mary D. Miller, in a column titled "It Takes an Actuary," boasts that "our world will be more vital than ever" in the era of drones and Big Data, as people find more and more innovative ways to die; the puzzle columnist is retiring.

But I was mostly struck by the cover story:

Contingencies! Tim Murphy

Weed!

With the legalization movement racking up victory after victory, the writer, Hank George, seeks to correct a misunderstanding among his actuarial colleagues—that marijuana "conferred the same relative mortality risk as cigarette smoking." To the contrary, he writes, "recreational marijuana users enjoy better physical fitness and get more exercise than nonusers" and "have even been shown to have higher IQs." He concludes: "The tide is turning—life underwriters would be wise to be at the front end of this curve, and not stubbornly digging in their heels to the detriment of their products."

For now, at least, life insurers are still holding the line on pot smoke as a vice on par with cigarettes. But it's a testament to how far the legalization movement has grown beyond its hippie roots that even the actuaries are starting to fall in line.

Obama Just Officially Decided White House Emails Aren't Subject to the Freedom of Information Act

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 1:14 PM EDT

Civil liberties advocates are adding another strike to the Obama administration's record on transparency: on Monday, the White House announced that it is officially ending the Freedom of Information Act obligations of its Office of Administration. That office provides broad administrative support to the White House—including the archiving of emails—and had been subject to FOIA for much of its nearly four-decade history.

In 2007, the George W. Bush administration decided that its OA would reject any FOIA requests, freeing it from the burden to release emails regarding any number of Bush-era scandals. When President Obama took office in 2009, transparency advocates were hopeful that he'd strike down the Bush policy—especially after he claimed transparency would be a "touchstone" of his presidency. In a letter that year, advocates from dozens of organizations urged Obama to restore transparency to the OA.

He never did, and Monday's move from the White House makes the long-standing policy official. Coincidentally, March 16th was Freedom of Information Day, and this week marks the annual Sunshine Week, which focuses on open government. 

If You Own a Pitchfork, You Will Grab It When You See This Chart

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 3:50 PM EDT

This statistic provides a pretty compelling snapshot of the severity of our income gap: In 2014, Wall Street's bonus pool was roughly double the combined earnings of all Americans working full-time jobs at minimum wage. 

That sobering tidbit came from a new Institute for Policy Studies report by Sarah Anderson, who looked at new figures from the New York State Comptroller and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average bonus for one of New York City's 167,800 employees in the securities industry came out to $172,860—on top of an average salary of nearly $200,000. On the other side of the equation were about one million people working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 

In a recent New York Times article, Justin Wolfers, a senior fellow for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, picked apart some of the uncertainties that go into creating such a calculation, and ultimately came up with a similar result:

The count of workers at federal minimum wage includes only those who are paid hourly, and so omits those paid weekly or monthly. On the flip side, the B.L.S. count is based on income before tips and commissions, and so may overstate the number of people with low hourly earnings. And while my calculation assumed that all minimum wage workers earn $7.25 per hour, in fact many earn less than this, including wait staff and others who rely on tips, some students and young workers, certain farmworkers, and those whose bosses simply flout the minimum wage law.

For all of these uncertainties, the broad picture doesn’t change. My judgment is that we can be pretty confident that Ms. Anderson's estimate that the sum of Wall Street bonuses is roughly twice the total amount paid to all full-time workers paid minimum wage seems like a fair characterization.

This Man Is Missing a Chunk of His Brain. The Missouri Supreme Court Says It's Okay to Execute Him.

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 2:26 PM EDT

Update: Cecil Clayton was executed at 9:21 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, March 17.

Cecil Clayton, a mentally ill Missouri man facing execution on Tuesday, was denied a crucial avenue to clemency this weekend: The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Clayton is competent to be executed. But he's missing one-fifth of his frontal lobe.

Clayton, 74, was sentenced to death in 1997 for murdering a police officer. Twenty-five years before that, he suffered a horrific accident that caused the removal of significant parts of his brain, transforming his brain chemistry and personality. His lawyers are aiming to secure him a stay of execution and a hearing to evaluate his competency to be executed, but Missouri law makes it highly difficult to do so after the trial.

In a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court found that Clayton's lawyers had not presented a sufficiently compelling case for the state to delay his execution and hold a hearing to evaluate his competency. The majority argued that though Clayton suffers from debilitating dementia, paranoia, schizophrenia, and a host of other conditions, "there is no evidence that he is not capable of understanding 'matters in extenuation, arguments for executive clemency, or reasons why the sentence should not be carried out.'"

In their dissent, the three judges in the minority wrote that Clayton's lawyers presented reasonable grounds that his "mental condition has deteriorated and he is intellectually disabled." They noted that he is "incompetent to be executed and…is entitled to a hearing at which his competence will be determined." And they contended that the "majority's decision to proceed with the execution at this time and in these circumstances violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment." 

A few options remain for Clayton. On Monday, Clayton's lawyers filed a petition to the US Supreme Court to stay the execution. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) also can stay the execution and order a competency hearing. Clayton is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection—a method his attorneys claim could cause him a "prolonged and excruciating" death—at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

 

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Key Obama Adviser: "There’s Never Been a Time When We’ve Taken Progressive Action and Regretted It"

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 5:33 PM EDT

Here to jump start your weekend is a "Quote of the Week," taken from Jonathan Chait's interview with longtime Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who worked closely with president from the 2008 campaign until his resignation last week. Their conversation focused on the president's embrace of liberalism in the face of a staunch GOP-controlled Congress. Pfeiffer's choice quote:

Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action, whether that’s the president's endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean: Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president's approval ratings? What will this mean in red states?

There's never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it.

Happy Friday!

This Arizona Lawmaker Bravely Revealed Her Sexual Assault to Fight a Restrictive Abortion Bill

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 2:18 PM EDT

Arizona state Rep. Victoria Steele (D) revealed during emotional testimony Wednesday that she was molested by a male relative when she was a young girl. Steele, who was speaking against a bill that would make it harder for women to elect abortion coverage in plans bought through the Affordable Care Act, hadn't planned to talk about her past abuse, she explained later. But when committee chair Kelly Townsend asked her whether she felt abortion was a medical service, she felt compelled to share her experience.

"When I was a child, I was molested for years by one particular person," Steele testified. "This is health care. Having the ability to get an abortion. This is health care. And that's why I see this as necessary."

Steele said she later found out there were multiple victims, one of whom told her their molester had told her he would "stick a pencil up there and take care of it" if she ever ended up pregnant.

After Steele's testimony, a state House committee approved the bill by a 5-3 party-line vote. The bill now faces a vote before the full House.

In an editorial for Cosmopolitan published on Friday, Steele said she expected the bill to survive further debate, but explained why she thinks it's  dangerous for women's rights:

I was sexually abused by an adult over a period of years when I was a young girl. My immediate family didn't know about this until long after I had grown up and left home. When I was a child, I thought I was the only one. Then I found out that this person had many victims.

What I want, what I'm really hoping will come of all of this is that people will realize that this bill will cause women who have been raped recently, who are now pregnant as a result of their rape, to have to tell their insurance panel, or even their insurance agent, about one of the most horrific things that can happen to a person in order to get the exception that this bill will allow.

The NYPD Is Editing the Wikipedia Pages of Eric Garner, Sean Bell

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

Edits to the Wikipedia entries of several high-profile police brutality cases, including those of Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, trace back to the headquarters of the New York Police Department, Capital New York reports this morning. The pages have been edited to cast the NYPD in a more favorable light and lessen allegations of police misconduct. The edits are currently the subject of an NYPD internal review.

In the case of Garner, who died while placed in a chokehold by a NYPD officer last summer, the word "chokehold" was swapped for "respiratory distress" and the line "Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them" was added. The changes ostensibly suggest Garner's death was his own fault.

Such modifications echo the views of NYPD supporters, including Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) who adamantly declared Garner would not have died had he not been so "obese." In August, the city's medical examiner officially ruled Garner's death a homicide due to the chokehold.

The Wikipedia activity brewing at 1 Police Plaza took a distinctly more bizarre turn with edits to the pages "Ice Cream Soda," "Who Moved My Cheese?" "Chumbawamba," and "Stone Cold Steve Austin."

Following Capital New York's story on Friday, the Twitter account "NYPD Edits" was created to keep tabs on any future changes authored by the NYPD.

Joe Biden Blasts Republicans for Letter to Iran

| Tue Mar. 10, 2015 3:32 PM EDT

Joe Biden's pissed. Yesterday, 47 GOP senators sent a letter to Iranian leaders suggesting that the negotiations with President Obama over their nuclear program were essentially a waste of time, stating: "The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen...and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time." Biden, who served in US Senate for 36 years, responded with his own blistering rebuttal, writing that the senators' letter is "beneath the dignity of an institution I revere."

He wrote:

The senator’s letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger...

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval....

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

Iran's response to the GOP letter, which was spearheaded by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton who previously argued that the US should seek "regime change" in Iran rather than conduct negotiations, was similarly dismissive. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday chalked it up to little more than "a propaganda ploy" that had "no legal value," adding: "I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with 'the stroke of a pen,' as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law."

Biden goes on to note that the senators have offered "no viable alternative" to the diplomatic negotiations, and the letter seeking to undermine them sends a message to the international community that is "as false as it is dangerous."

Here's Biden's letter in full:

I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.

The senator’s letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.

Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran’s leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.