Political MoJo

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

Wed Jul. 30, 2014 1:17 PM EDT

The USS George Washington conducts flight operations east of Okinawa. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Beverly J. Lesonik.)

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Fast-Food Workers Just Took McDonald’s Down a Notch

| Wed Jul. 30, 2014 12:55 PM EDT

On Tuesday evening, the federal government dealt a huge blow to McDonald’s, which has for over a year and a half been the target of worker protests and lawsuits over its low wages and questionable labor practices.

McDonald’s has long maintained that as a parent company, it cannot be held liable for the decisions individual franchises make about pay and working conditions. On Tuesday, the general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that this is nonsense, saying that the $5.6 billion company is indeed responsible for employment practices at its local franchises. That means that the company is no longer shielded from dozes of charges pending at regional NLRB offices around the country alleging illegal employment practices.

"McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there's no two ways about it," Micah Wissinger, an attorney who brought a case on behalf of New York City McDonald's workers said in a statement Tuesday. "The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple."

The Fast-Food Workers Committee along with the Service Employees International Union has filed numerous complaints against the company with the NLRB since November 2012. Most recently, workers filed seven class action lawsuits against McDonald’s corporate and its franchises in three states alleging wage theft. The NLRB consolidated all these complaints into the case it decided on Tuesday, which focused on whether McDonald's corporate can be considered as a "joint employer" along with the owner of the franchise.

Since the fall of 2012, fast-food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC franchises around the country have been striking to demand a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The strikes recently went global. Organizers say Tuesday's ruling will lend workers new momentum in their ongoing battle against the fast-food mega-chain.

Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open—For Now

| Tue Jul. 29, 2014 3:47 PM EDT

The last abortion clinic in Mississippi has been on the brink of closure for nearly two years. But the fight to shutter the Jackson Women's Health Organization may have ended Tuesday, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the strict anti-abortion measure that would have closed its doors forever.

The court fight to save the clinic began in 2012, after state lawmakers passed a bill requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—or else face criminal charges. Restrictive anti-abortion bills had already closed several clinics in the state, and, had the Fifth Circuit not ruled against the state, Mississippi was poised to become the first state since Roe v. Wade without a single abortion provider.

Attorneys for the Jackson Women's Health Organization argued that admitting privileges were unconstitutional and not medically necessary for the safety of its clients. (The clinic, after all, already had a patient-transfer agreement with a local hospital for rare cases in which a patient required hospitalization.) A federal judge was receptive to this argument and blocked the law from going into effect; in response, the state of Mississippi appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

Take a look inside Mississippi's last abortion clinic.

Amid the legal wrangling, the Jackson Women's Health Organization attempted to obtain admitting privileges to comply with the law. As Mother Jones has reported, all seven hospitals where the Jackson Women's Health Organization was eligible for admitting privileges turned the clinic down. This was partly because its providers travel to Mississippi from out of state, and partly because hospitals refused to be associated with abortion.

As Mother Jones reported in 2012:

The doctors' applications have been rejected by every hospital they've approached. Two hospitals wouldn't let them apply at all. Five others denied the applications for "administrative" reasons, before even completely reviewing the doctors' qualifications. Their rejection letters cited their policies regarding abortion and "concern about disruption to the hospital's business within the community." The clinic wrote follow-up letters to make sure the hospitals understood that the doctors were only seeking privileges to comply with the new law and wouldn't actually be providing abortions at the hospital, but no dice.

Abortion rights advocates feared that the Fifth Circuit would be hostile to such claims. A three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit upheld a very similar Texas law in March. Appeals courts in the Fourth and Eighth Circuits have also upheld admitting privilege laws.

But on Tuesday, the appeals court ruled, "Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state." It is not yet clear if the state will appeal to the US Supreme Court. But the decision—short of intervention from high court—means the clinic will remain open for the foreseeable future.

Anyone With a Concealed Carry Permit Can Now Come Dangerously Close to the White House

| Mon Jul. 28, 2014 4:16 PM EDT

A federal judge has ordered the District of Columbia to stop enforcing its restrictions on carrying handguns on the streets of the nation's capital. The decision also forced the District government to allow out-of-state concealed carry and open carry permit holders to wield their weapons within steps of the White House.

Senior District Court Judge Fredrick Scullin Jr., ruling from his regular post in Syracuse, New York, said that the case is a no-brainer. Based on the US Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in DC v. Heller, which validated the individual right to bear arms, Scullin said the city's gun laws were clearly unconstitutional. He sided with the plaintiffs, who argued that while the city passed a law requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public, it then refused to grant them to anyone who planned to carry their weapons outside their homes, a move that violated the Second Amendment.

The Heller case, spearheaded by Alan Gura, the same lawyer who won this weekend's ruling, struck down DC's long-standing ban on the ownership of handguns. But in complying with the ruling, the city passed new laws in 2008 that were so restrictive that, the court said, they still prevented virtually anyone from getting a license to carry a handgun outside of their homes. And that, Scullin said, just won't fly.

The potential implications of the decision are enormous, should it be allowed to stand. The District of Columbia is unlike any other American city. It's filled with important federal agency buildings, monuments, courthouses, not to mention the White House. Visiting dignitaries, heads of state, and many members of Congress travel its streets on a daily basis.

DC is also home to large public events attended by all manner of VIPs, including presidential inaugurations, which are difficult enough to secure without the prospect of gun-toting citizens joining the fray. The security apparatus in DC is intense. And assassination attempts aren't unheard of. Former Mayor Marion Barry Jr. was shot in 1977 in the DC Council building. John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton. There was also the 2013 Navy Yard shooting that left 12 people dead. DC is a magnet for crazy people with guns, something law enforcement officials have long recognized.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier testified before Congress in 2008 against a bill pending in the House that would have accomplished what Scullin's ruling effectively did, overturning the city's gun laws. She noted that in order to watch the oral arguments in the Heller case, she had to leave her gun behind. No weapons are allowed inside the very building where the justices decided that the city's gun restrictions were just too restrictive.

Many of those type of restrictions in DC will remain in place, regardless of Scullin's ruling. Both DC and federal laws will still allow the government to bar the bearing of arms in certain places, including federal buildings, schools, the Capitol, etc. Traversing the District without encountering terrain that prohibits guns would be difficult. Just crossing the trendy DuPont Circle neighborhood might entail stepping foot on federal parkland, where guns are barred.

Even so, the ruling, which took effect almost immediately, could put a lot more guns into a city that's spent untold millions trying to secure and defend against terrorist and other public safety threats. The plaintiffs in the case that prompted Scullin's ruling, Palmer v. DC, argue that DC's gun laws need to be overturned for the benefit of law-abiding citizens. The plaintiffs are all described as upstanding folks just looking to defend themselves on the mean streets of DC (or at least not get arrested for having a gun in the car, as one of them did). But, as any number of recent gun-related massacres can attest, not all legal gun owners are sane, stable, or well intentioned.

The Violence Policy Center has been keeping a running tally of all the people in the US who've been killed by people legally carrying a concealed weapon. Since 2007, that figure has reached 644, and it includes 14 law enforcement officers. Fewer than 20 of those deaths were deemed lawful self-defense. There's a good reason why DC has banned the open or concealed carrying of weapons by ordinary citizens for 150 years. But thanks to the US Supreme Court, and now Judge Scullin, those common sense practices may go out the door. 

Scullin's ruling, at least in the near-term, is likely to be short-lived. The District has asked the court to stay its decision and let the city's current laws stand until it can formally appeal the ruling or until it can revise its laws to meet constitutional scrutiny.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 28, 2014

Mon Jul. 28, 2014 9:43 AM EDT

US Marines take cover behind a barrier after tossing a grenade at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Sarah Dietz.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 24, 2014

Fri Jul. 25, 2014 9:00 AM EDT

US Navy sailors participate in a replenishment-at-sea on a scheduled deployment aboard the USS Oscar Austin guided-missile destroyer. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class DJ Revell.)

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GOP to America: Rich Kids Are Worth More Than Poor Kids

| Fri Jul. 25, 2014 7:47 AM EDT

Update, Friday July 25: On Friday, the House passed Rep. Lynn Jenkins' (R-Ks.) child tax credit legislation, which would expand the credit for upper-middle class American families. The bill received the support of 212 Republican and 25 Democrats.

On Friday, the House will vote on a Republican bill that ignores an expiring tax credit for millions of low-income families, while handing one to better-off Americans.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Ks.), changes the way the federal child tax credit works by raising the eligibility cap for married couples. At the same time, the legislation would allow a 2009 child tax credit increase for low-income families to expire at the end of 2017. Here's how that would play out in the coming years. A married couple with two children that bring in $160,000 a year would get a new annual tax cut of $2,200, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). A single mother with two kids who makes $14,500 a year would lose $1,725 annually.

"The big winners would be the more-affluent families who would become newly eligible for the [child tax credit]," tax experts at the CBPP noted Tuesday. "The losers would be millions of low-income families who are doing exactly what policymakers often say they want these people to do—working, even at low-wage jobs."

Here's a look at how poor, middle-class, and wealthier Americans would be affected by the bill, via the CBPP:

The 2009 law that increased the child tax credit for poor families did so by lowering the income level required for a partial credit to $3,000 and reducing the annual income required for a full credit to $16,333. If it expires, 6 million children and roughly 400,000 veterans and military families would lose all or part of their child tax credit.

A spokesman for Jenkins explains that the reason the bill ends up extending the child tax credit to wealthier Americans is that it gets rid of the marriage penalty, which treats a married couple's total income differently than the sum of two separate incomes. The way the child tax credit is currently structured, a single person making up to $75,000 is eligible for a full credit. But for a married couple filing jointly, full credit eligibility cuts off at $110,000 instead of at $150,000, the couple's combined total income. Jenkins' bill moves the full credit cut-off to $150,000. (As income increases above these thresholds, the child tax credit phases out slowly. Under Jenkins' bill, for instance, a couple with two kids could still get the credit if they make up to $205,000.)

Jenkins' office adds that the reason that the legislation does not extend the low-income child tax credit increase is that this provision doesn't expire until the end of 2017, and future legislation can address it.

But a Democratic aide familiar with the bill says this justification is disingenuous, adding that if GOPers wanted to extend the low-income provision, they would. All 22 Republicans on the House ways and means committee voted for Jenkins' bill, while all 15 Dems on the committee voted against it. "[Republicans] can say whatever they want," the aide says. But "they are prioritizing making permanent [all the tax provisions] that they want to be permanent, and getting rid of everything else." For instance, Republicans are already pushing to extend another tax measure that expires at the end of 2017 that is designed to help parents and students pay for college expenses.

The Democratic staffer adds that if Jenkins' bill were to become law, and the low-income provision were left hanging on its own, it would be very difficult to "galvanize Congress into action" to pass a separate extension for the measure. "What carries it along is that it's bundled together," he says. Chuck Marr, one of the authors of the CBPP study, agrees that the most obvious way for the House to extend the low-income measure would be to include it in Jenkins' bill.

Even if the legislation passes the House, the bill—which would cost the government $115 billion over ten years—has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Idaho Tribe Cancels Ted Nugent Concert Because of His Support for Washington Football Team Name

| Thu Jul. 24, 2014 10:59 AM EDT
This is an actual image from Ted Nugent's Facebook page.

Ted Nugent doesn't have a racist bone in his body. But sometimes racist words just happen to come out of it. On Monday, tribal officials in Idaho canceled the aging rock-and-roller's scheduled concert at a Coeur d'Alene casino over his past rhetoric. Per Indian Country Today:

Later in the day, [tribe spokeswoman Heather] Keen said in a statement, "Reviewing scheduled acts is not something in which Tribal Council or the tribal government participates; however, if it had been up to Tribal Council this act would have never been booked."

Then, Monday evening, Keen announced the concert was being canceled, explaining that "Nugent's history of racist and hate-filled remarks was brought to Tribal Council's attention earlier today." Tribal Chief Allan added that "We know what it's like to be the target of hateful messages and we would never want perpetuate hate in any way."

Among the racist issues brought to the tribe's attention: Referring to President Obama as a "subhuman mongrel," and his wholehearted support for the Washington football team name, which he outlined in a 2013 op-ed for the conservative conspiracy site WorldNetDaily, titled "A tomahawk chop to political correctness." The first line of the piece is, "Every so often some numbskull beats the politically correct war drum..." and it continues at pace from there, nodding to "Native Americans whose feathers are ruffled" and, "wafting smoke signals of real distress."

Nugent responded to the canceled event at the Coeur d'Alene casino and calls for similar cancellations elsewhere by calling his critics "unclean vermin," thereby refuting any further claims of racism.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 24, 2014

Thu Jul. 24, 2014 9:34 AM EDT

A US Marine discusses the best route through the jungle in a training area in Hawaii with an Indonesian squad leader. (Department of Defense photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan, US Marine Corps.)

Twitter Releases Its Diversity Stats. And Boy, Are They Embarrassing.

| Wed Jul. 23, 2014 7:37 PM EDT

Twitter today followed in the footsteps of Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook by releasing statistics on the race and gender of its workforce. The company certainly deserves credit for voluntarily making its diversity stats public, unlike, say, Apple. "Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do," Janet Van Huysse, its VP of diversity and inclusion, admits on the company blog. But perhaps that's an understatement; Twitter actually lags far behind its peers on some key measures. For instance, only 1 out of every 10 Twitter tech employees is a woman:

Twitter

In case you're wondering, other large tech companies have significantly better gender diversity (though it's still abysmal compared to professions such as law or medicine). At Facebook and Yahoo, 15 percent of tech workers are women. At Google and LinkedIn, it's 17 percent. In 2010, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News found that women held 24 percent of computer and mathematics jobs in Silicon Valley and 27 percent of those jobs nationally (though those categories may be broader than how they're defined by leading tech companies, as Tasneem Raja explores in this great piece on America's growing gap in tech literacy).

Unlike its peers, Twitter can't entirely blame its dearth of female coders on the talent pipeline: About 18 percent of computer science graduates are women. Instead, Van Huysse points to a slew of efforts to "move the needle" at Twitter, such as supporting the groups Girls Who Code and sf.girls and hosting "Girl Geek Dinners." 

As other reporters have noted, major tech firms started releasing their workforce data shortly after I obtained a batch of Silicon Valley diversity figures from the Labor Department and began asking them for comment. But pressure to release the stats has also come from a campaign by Color of Change and Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, which have demanded the stats during a string of private meetings with Valley execs, and last week launched a Twitter-based campaign to urge Twitter to make its diversity numbers public. Strikingly, only 1 percent of Twitter's tech workforce and 2 percent of its overall workforce is African-American:

Jackson argues that improving Twitter's diversity isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a good business decision. It turns out that "Black Twitter" isn't just a meme. According to a recent Pew survey, 22 percent of African-American internet users are on Twitter, while only 16 percent of White internet users tweet. Meanwhile, usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ is roughly the same between Blacks and Whites.

In short, Twitter might make more money by hiring more people who reflect its audience. "There is no talent deficit, there's an opportunity deficit," Jackson said in a press release responding to Twitter's data. "When everyone is 'in,' everyone wins."