Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 3, 2014

Thu Jul. 3, 2014 9:26 AM EDT

Soldiers of the 423rd Military Police Company march in a departure ceremony before training and placement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (US Army Reserve Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell)

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 2, 2014

Wed Jul. 2, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

A group of US Marines learns proper blade handling techniques in the Philippines.(US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Schlosser.)

This Judge Just Destroyed the Stupidest Argument Against Gay Marriage Ever

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 1:54 PM EDT

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and issued a withering take-down of marriage equality opponents.

Kentucky had argued that legalizing gay marriage would harm the state's birth rate. "These arguments are not those of serious people," wrote US district judge John Heyburn. "Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why.

"Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.

"The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and in 'ensuring humanity’s continued existence' are at best illogical and even bewildering…The Court can think of no other conceivable legitimate reason for Kentucky’s laws excluding same-sex couples from marriage."

Heyburn stayed his ruling while Kentucky appeals, meaning no same-sex marriages are taking place just yet.

Read the full ruling:

 

Here Are 4 Lawsuits That Could Inflict More Damage on Unions After Harris v. Quinn

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 12:05 PM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court's conservative justices on Monday defied some expectations by not decimating public-employee labor unions via their ruling in Harris v. Quinn. Given the opportunity to issue a sprawling decision that would overturn decades of precedent, and in the process kneecap the basic model of public-employee unionism, the five justices, led by Samuel Alito, instead issued a narrower decision. They ruled that home health care workers in Illinois are not full-fledged public workers and thus cannot be required to pay so-called fair-share fees to unions—money that goes toward the cost of union representation for all workers in a particular workplace.

But we may be back in this same situation a year from now, with the Supreme Court holding the fate of public-employee unions in its hands. That's because there are a handful of ongoing lawsuits in courts around the country that pose similar challenges to unions as Harris did and that could end up before the Supreme Court. It's possible that one of these cases could do further damage to the labor movement—with the potential to wipe out the precedent set in 1977's Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. (In Abood, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of public-employee unions collecting fair-share fees from nonmembers to pay the costs of collective bargaining.)

If you're looking for a common thread between these challenges, it's the National Right-to-Work Legal Foundation, the driving force behind many anti-union suits around the country. The foundation represented the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn, and it has provided legal help in two of the following cases. 

Here's a snapshot of four cases that could be the next Harris:

  • D'Agostino v. Patrick: A group of home child care workers in Massachusetts filed suit after the state passed a law designating the SEIU as the exclusive union for those workers. Similar to the Illinois home care workers who brought the Harris suit, the Massachusetts workers claim their rights are being infringed on by being represented by SEIU, meaning union members and nonmembers pay dues in exchange for the benefits that come with union representation. This case is in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts.
  • Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: A group of public school teachers in California claim that the requirement that they pay fair-share dues to the California Teachers Association infringes on their First Amendment rights. Their suit also seeks to ban the "opt-out" model of automatic dues deductions, in which teachers who pay dues must opt out to keep their money from funding union political activity. Instead, the plaintiffs want teachers to opt in to fund that political work. This case is with the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Parrish v. Dayton: After Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill in May 2013 allowing the state's child care providers to vote to unionize, opponents filed a suit similar to Harris to halt the new law. The suit was on hold pending the outcome of the Harris case. The plaintiffs hailed the Supreme Court's decision in Harris, and their lawyers now expect movement in Parrish.
  • Hamidi v. SEIU Local 1000: This suit targets the part of California law that allows public-employee unions to use the opt-out model for dues paying, as described above. If Hamidi, who works for the state's Franchise Tax Board, succeeds, his suit could take a bite out of Abood, which in part upheld the practice of opt-out clauses. Hamidi's case is currently in California district court.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 1, 2014

Tue Jul. 1, 2014 9:49 AM EDT

The USS Rushmore delivers equipment to a base in Hawaii to support Rim of the Pacific, the world's largest maritime exercise. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight.)

The IRS Is Coming For Your Offshore Bank Account

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Where corporate America's money went

It's always been a pretty simple arrangement for America's superrich: Park your money in a country whose banks know how to keep a secret and then underreport your assets to the IRS. Without a way to independently verify how much money you have abroad, the taxman had to take your word for how much money you had stashed in a Swiss vault or in a sunny haven like the Cayman Islands. But as of yesterday, the US government will require foreign banks to report their American clients' assets, or face 30 percent tax penalties on some offshore deposits.

The move is part of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which was introduced in 2010. Since then, more than 80 countries have agreed to open their ledger books to the feds. After some complicated last-minute negotiations, even Russia and China have started to cooperate.

Companies and individuals have long used offshore banking to keep their taxes low: Last year, American multinationals kept an estimated $2 trillion (yes, with a "t") abroad, according to a Bloomberg analysis. In recent years, tech companies have become some of the most enthusiastic offshore depositors. Between 2010 and 2013, Microsoft more than doubled its foreign stockpile to $76.4 billion, while Apple increased its pot abroad more than fourfold to $54.4 billion.

But while big US companies have stowed a massive pile of cash abroad, US banks hold even more money for foreign clients. According to Tax Justice Network, a British-based advocacy and research group, out of the $21 to $32 trillion kept offshore globally, about 22 percent is kept in the United States—a fact that's not lost on countries complying with FATCA, some of whom are embracing the law because it means they'll get to learn a few things about their own citizens' holdings in the US.

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Here Is the Supreme Court's Decision in the Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The court ruled that most companies do not have to cover contraception for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so. Here is the decision:

 

Read the Supreme Court's Decision in The Blockbuster Labor Case Harris v. Quinn

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 30, 2014

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 9:31 AM EDT

US Marines rappel from a helicopter in a training exercise at sea. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alisa Helin)

Map: These Are the Places Central American Child Migrants Are Fleeing

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:48 PM EDT

A recently produced infographic from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the majority of unaccompanied children coming to the United States are from some of the most violent and impoverished parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The map documents the origins of child migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol from January 1 to May 14. It was made public by Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, and it includes the following analysis about the surge in child migrants:

…Many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating that they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.

This echoes what I found in my yearlong investigation into the explosion of unaccompanied child migrants arriving to the United States. As I wrote in the July/August issue of Mother Jones:

Although some have traveled from as far away as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, the bulk are minors from Mexico and from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which together account for 74 percent of the surge. Long plagued by instability and unrest, these countries have grown especially dangerous in recent years: Honduras imploded following a military coup in 2009 and now has the world's highest murder rate. El Salvador has the second-highest, despite the 2012 gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Guatemala, new territory for the Zetas cartel, has the fifth-highest murder rate; meanwhile, the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production (Guatemala imports half of its corn) and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel.

Below is a more granular look at where kids are coming from, also produced by DHS. San Pedro Sula, the world's most violent city, was home to the largest number of child migrants caught by the Border Patrol (more than 2,500). Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, sent the second-most kids, fewer than 1,000.