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June 30 2015 11:15 AM

Greece Just Did Something No Developed Country Has Ever Done

Update, 10:15 p.m. The headline has been updated to reflect the fact that Greece missed the payment and has been declared "in arrears" by the IMF.

Original Post: Greece needs to cough up $1.8 billion by 6 p.m. ET Tuesday evening, (1 a.m. in Athens) to avoid the dubious distinction of being the first developed country ever to default on a loan from the International Monetary Fund, joining a club that includes Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Sudan. If it finds itself in arrears to the world’s financial backstop, Greece would immediately lose access to IMF resources and could eventually be kicked out of the fund entirely.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seems intent on not making the payment, saying last night, “How is it possible the creditors are waiting for the IMF payment while our banks are being asphyxiated?”

Today is also the day when Greece’s bailout program expires. Tsipras rejected the latest bailout proposal from Greek creditors over the weekend and stunned the world by announcing a public referendum on the deal to be held this coming Sunday. The prime minister plans to vote “no” in the poll, which other European leaders have made clear they view as a referendum on whether Greece will remain in the eurozone, though Germany’s finance minister suggested today that there could be a way to keep Greece on the single currency even with a no vote.

Late on Monday night, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made a last-ditch proposal to salvage negotiations, offering concessions on payments to the poorest Greek pensioners in exchange for Tsipras agreeing to the rest of the terms of the bailout—which he already rejected—and campaigning on behalf of the deal in Sunday’s referendum. The offer had a deadline of midnight last night, but is apparently still being discussed in Athens. Extending the bailout would allow Greece to make its payment to the IMF. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that Tsipras, after having taken a fairly absolutist stance against the austerity measures demanded by Europe, could walk back now. The bailout is now in the hands of Greek voters, who by and large favor staying in the euro but feel trapped by the demands of the country’s creditors. A large “no” rally was held in Athens on Monday, and a rival, pro-Europe rally is planned for today.

The German government, which has essentially written off efforts to negotiate with the Greeks, found Juncker’s last-minute offer “irritating,” according to one senior lawmaker.

After this Sunday, the next key date to watch is July 20, when a 3.5 billion euro payment to the European Central Bank is due. If there’s no bailout program in place by that point, the bank will cut off Greece’s banks.

Markets seem relatively unpanicked by the likely default, potential Greek exit from the eurozone, and possible risk of financial contagion. The euro was up slightly against the dollar today

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June 30 2015 10:23 AM

Pope Francis Will Hold Mass in D.C., New York, Philadelphia During September Visit

The Vatican has released a full itinerary for Pope Francis’ Sept. 23–27 trip to the United States, during which the popular pontiff will celebrate Mass in three East Coast cities. The highlights:

  • Sept. 23: Mass at the Basilicia of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.
  • Sept. 24: address to Congress.
  • Sept. 25: address to the United Nations, “multi-religious service” at 9/11 memorial, Mass at Madison Square Garden.
  • Sept. 26 and 27: Mass and appearances at the World Meeting of Families, a triennial Catholic event being held this year in Philadelphia.

A recent Pew survey found that 64 percent of all Americans and 86 percent of American Catholics held favorable views of the pope. He’ll also visit an East Harlem school and a Pennsylvania prison during his trip.

Francis will arrive in the U.S. via Cuba; it’ll be his first trip to the island. In 1998, John Paul II became the first pope to visit Cuba since Castro’s rise to power, and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012.

June 30 2015 10:19 AM

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Will Likely Wipe Out Public-Sector Unions

On Friday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case next term that could wipe out public-sector unions. These unions require all public employees in a certain profession to pay fees associated with nonpolitical union representation, like collective bargaining. Now 10 California teachers, along with the Christian Educators Association International, are suing to halt the collection of these fees. They believe that mandatory union payments constitute compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

There is virtually no chance that the Supreme Court will disagree. Over the last several years, Justice Samuel Alito—undoubtedly unions’ biggest enemy on the court—has been tightening the noose around unions’ necks. Joined by his fellow conservatives, Alito has issued two rulings that restricted public-sector unions’ ability to collect mandatory fees. In the second of these cases, Alito essentially telegraphed that he was prepared to rule that the entire system of mandatory fees is unconstitutional—overturning settled precedent in the process. Next term, he will have that opportunity. And there is every reason to believe he (and the court’s other conservatives) will take it.

Stripped of the ability to collect mandatory fees, many public-sector unions will lose much of their bargaining power. Some will likely collapse. This consequence is especially noteworthy given that conservatives claimed their ruling in Citizens United would empower both corporations and unions. Now the court is poised to wipe out public-sector unions in the name of free speech. And corporations will still be free to dump billions of dollars into elections to achieve the outcome they desire.

June 30 2015 7:27 AM

Dozens Killed When Indonesian Military Plane Crashes Into Hotel

A C-130 Hercules military plane crashed into a hotel in Medan on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Tuesday, with a local Red Cross official confirming at least 43 deaths and predicting that the number will rise, CNN reports.

The plane had just taken off with a crew of 12 from Soewondo Air Force Base, located roughly 3 miles from the crash, carrying supplies to Indonesian bases on other islands. 

Reuters notes that Tuesday’s disaster was the latest in a series of deadly aviation accidents for authorities in Indonesia:

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 10 fatal crashes involving Indonesian military or police aircraft over the last decade.
The accidents put under a spotlight the safety record of Indonesia's aviation and its aging commercial and military aircraft. [Military spokesman Fuad] Basya said the plane that crashed on Tuesday was built in 1964.

ABC adds that Medan was the site of a Boeing 737 crash in 2005 that killed 100 passengers and crew and 49 people on the groud.

June 29 2015 11:18 PM

Obama Announces Plan to Make 5 Million More American Workers Eligible for Overtime Pay

President Obama announced on Monday night a proposed change to the overtime rules that would expand who was automatically eligible for overtime by 5 million workers. Obama’s proposal, which wouldn’t be implemented until 2016, would double the pay a salaried worker could make and still remain eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay from $23,660 to $50,440.

“Under the current federal rules last updated in 2004, workers who are paid by the hour or earn a salary of less than the threshold generally are eligible for overtime pay, while those with salaries of at least that amount who work in white-collar jobs generally aren’t,” the Wall Street Journal notes.

Obama announced the proposed change in a HuffPo op-ed.

Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve. That's partly because we've failed to update overtime regulations for years -- and an exemption meant for highly paid, white collar employees now leaves out workers making as little as $23,660 a year -- no matter how many hours they work. This week, I'll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers in 2016, covering all salaried workers making up to about $50,400 next year. That's good for workers who want fair pay, and it's good for business owners who are already paying their employees what they deserve -- since those who are doing right by their employees are undercut by competitors who aren't. That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America.

“The administration has the power to issue the regulation, which would restore the overtime salary threshold to roughly where it stood in 1975 in terms of purchasing power, without congressional approval,” the New York Times reports. “Advocates on both sides of the issue expect the policy to be challenged in court and perhaps in Congress as well.”

June 29 2015 8:06 PM

Phil Mickelson Wired $3 Million to a Bookie Who Then Got Nabbed for Money Laundering

A sidenote in a money laundering case in California led ESPN straight to the door of Phil Mickelson on Monday. The network’s Outside the Lines investigative crew is reporting that a 56-year-old former sports gambler pleaded guilty to acting as an intermediary between Mickelson and an illegal offshore gambling operation. The man in question, Gregory Silveira, was transferred nearly $3 million in total from Mickelson, according to court documents, and pleaded guilty to three counts of money laundering for the transactions from February 2010 to February 2013.

The five-time major winner, however, has not been charged with a crime and is not under investigation. Illegal gambling transactions constitute money laundering because the wire transfers to move the money around were done with “the intent to promote the carrying on of an illegal gambling operation,” Silveira’s plea agreement reads. References to Mickelson as the “gambling client,” ESPN notes, were buried deep in the court documents, then scrubbed altogether:

Although the final plea agreement reached between Silveira and the U.S. Department of Justice does not name the "gambling client," an initial plea agreement signed last month by Silveira and his attorney, James D. Henderson Sr., contained a reference to the "money laundering of funds from P.M." After Outside the Lines inquired about Mickelson's potential role in the case, the U.S. Attorney's Office on June 17 filed a motion to have the original plea agreement stricken. The next day, it filed an amended version minus any reference to "P.M." It is standard Department of Justice policy for documents not to mention third parties who are not criminally charged.

Mickelson, ESPN points out, is unlikely to face any penalty as it stands because federal anti-gambling statuets target individuals and syndicates that take the bets, rather than individuals who place them. If you were worried about Mickelson getting a refund—and you shouldn’t have been—fear not, he pulls in some $40 million a year in endorsements, according to Forbes.

June 29 2015 5:25 PM

SCOTUS Clears Way for North Carolina To Ban Pro-Choice License Plates

Buried among the Supreme Court's orders on Monday was a decision to vacate a Fourth Circuit ruling requiring North Carolina to make pro-choice license plates. Before that ruling, North Carolina made anti-abortion license plates—but refused to make any plates supporting abortion rights. The Fourth Circuit held that its rejection of pro-choice plates violated the First Amendment, and ordered the state to make plates reflecting both sides of the debate.

But then, in mid-June, the Supreme Court ruled, by a 5-4 vote, that Texas could ban Confederate flags on its license plates. License plate designs, the court held, constituted "government speech," not private speech. Thus, states may refuse to make a proposed plate—purely on ideological grounds—without violating the freedom of speech. As I noted then, the decision, called Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, seemed destined to have ramifications in the abortion debate. Some states (like New York) permit only pro-choice plates. Some states (like North Carolina) permit only anti-abortion plates. The justices' decision in Walker, I suggested, implicity condoned this blatant censorship. 

On Monday, the court proved me right. By vacating the Fourth Circuit's pro-speech ruling and directing it to reconsider the case in light of Walker, the justices all but ordered Fourth Circuit to reverse itself and allow the state's censorship. Despite its rejection of a Confederate flag plate, Walker was not a victory for civility or tolerance. It was an invitation for states to engage in the suppression of expression.

June 29 2015 4:13 PM

Here Are All the Racist Comments That Got Donald Trump Fired From NBC

Donald Trump is a jackass, but at least he's a jackass without a TV show. NBC fired Trump—who had already given up his role (at least temporarily) on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in order to pursue a presidential run—from the network for inflammatory and racist comments he made about immigrants.

“At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values,” the company said in a statement on Monday. “Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBC is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump.”

Last week, Univision decided to end its relationship with Trump by dropping his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, and now NBC has followed suit. The move comes after a Change.org petition asking NBC to get rid of Trump garnered more than 200,000 signatures. Trump has said he would sue Univision and has now seemingly threatened to sue NBC, saying that “their contract violating closure of Miss Universe/Miss USA will be determined in court."

While NBC has made it clear that Trump would not be returning to “The Celebrity Apprentice,” which at least seemed like a possibility prior to Monday’s announcement, they did not cancel the show. Trump reportedly owns a stake in the franchise, which the network said it would continue to license through Mark Burnett's United Artists Media Group.

As for the comments that landed Trump in hot water, he basically said that a large percentage of immigrants are rapists, murderers, or other criminals. He repeated the remarks a number of times, and stood by them again on Monday.

Here’s the first iteration of the comments, from when Trump announced his run for the presidency earlier this month:

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. … When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

When Trump was asked to explain those comments over the weekend by CNN’s Jake Tapper, he basically reiterated the stance.

"I like Mexico. I love the Mexican people. I do business with the Mexican people, but you have people coming through the border that are from all over. And they're bad. They're really bad," he said. "You have people coming in, and I'm not just saying Mexicans, I'm talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they're coming into this country.”

When asked why he was painting the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country with such a broad brush when the number of rapists and criminals in that group was a small percentage, Trump responded, “I don’t think it’s a small percentage, it’s a lot. But it’s not Mexicans necessarily. They’re coming from all over.”

The New York Times reported that Trump stood by his comments even after the firing. “I told NBC I could not change my stance,” he said. “The fact is that my stance on immigration is correct.”

He also said in a statement on Monday that illegal immigrants are "pouring across our borders unabated. Public reports routinely state great amounts of crime are being committed by illegal immigrants."

Now if only the GOP would repudiate Trump, who finishes in the top-eight of the current Republican field according to a recent polling average from RealClearPolitics.com.

June 29 2015 3:51 PM

Will Greece Lead a Rush to the Exits in Europe?

Technically, Greeks are voting this coming weekend only on whether to accept the terms of a bailout deal proposed by the country’s creditors, but other European governments, including the leaders of Germany, France, and Italy, have made clear today that they view it as an in-out referendum on whether Greece will remain within the eurozone. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party has urged voters to reject the bailout, and as there’s currently no legal mechanism for withdrawing from the monetary union other than a complete withdrawal from the EU, the prospect of a full-scale “Grexit” is looking much more likely this week.

European heads of state intend this as a threat, and a majority of Greeks do want to stay in the Eurozone, though perhaps not under what are viewed as unfairly punitive bailout terms, but some are watching events in Greece this week with excitement. If the Grexit does come to pass, the increasingly influential euroskeptic parties on both the right and left in several countries will view it as a watershed moment in the continent-wide backlash against European centralization.

Spain’s leftist, anti-austerity Podemos party, Syriza’s ideological allies, have organized a rally in Madrid to support the Greek referendum on Saturday, with demonstrators chanting “Viva Greece!” and “We are all Greeks!” and the party’s leader, Pablo Igelsias, referring to Greece’s creditors as a “mafia operation of fiscal terrorism.” Podemos made major gains in local elections in May, and polls show it running even with Spain’s mainstream parties in advance of general elections due later this year.

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party that has sought to reinvent itself as a leftist anti-austerity force, has praised the referendum, as has Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, leader of the populist, anti-EU Five Star Movement. Syriza has also earned praise from the opposite end of the political spectrum, with right-wing euroskeptic parties like France’s National Front and Britain’s UKIP praising this challenge to the authority of Brussels. Britain, which is not on the euro, is due to hold a referendum on EU membership by 2017, and polls show voters are likely to vote for an exit unless Prime Minister David Cameron succeeds in a long-shot bid to renegotiate the terms of British membership. Marine Le Pen, whose far-right anti-EU National Front came in second in local elections this year, has promised to hold a similar referendum in France if she is elected president in 2017.

Though mainstream European parties are by and large aghast at what’s happening in Greece, these parties will be excited to see a country take the plunge and accept the consequences of abandoning the European project. Eurozone membership is designed to be irreversible, and the exit of one member could erode trust in the union, leading more to follow its example.

On the other hand, Greece is hardly the ideal test case. No one really knows what happens next is Greece strikes out on its own, but even Grexit advocates, who argue Greece will benefit in the long run from the ability to print its own money and take advantage of more favorable exchange rates, concede that in the short term, massive inflation and a banking crisis are almost inevitable and the country will be treated like a pariah in global markets. Even if the worst scenarios don’t come to pass, Greece is unlikely to look like a promising model for a post-euro future for at least several years.

The Greek events are also likely being watched closely in Moscow. Tsipras’ government has pursued closer ties with Moscow as tensions with Europe have grown, and though he is not officially looking for other sources of loans, he paid a high-profile visit to an economic forum in St. Petersburg hosted by Vladimir Putin last month, giving a keynote speech at the conference. Putin has invited Greee to participate in the new BRICS Development Bank, an alternative to the U.S.-dominated IMF and World Bank organized by emerging powers. Putin, who in addition to his outreach to Greece has cultivated ties to anti-establishment parties throughout Europe, would likely welcome a new dramatic blow to the continent’s unity. 

June 29 2015 3:50 PM

Supreme Court Puts Anti-Abortion Ruling on Hold, Allows Texas Clinics to Remain Open by 5–4 Vote 

Hours after the Supreme Court finished its term on Monday, the justices put on hold the Fifth Circuit's ruling allowing Texas' draconian anti-abortion law to go into effect. The decision grants a last-minute reprieve to over half of Texas' remaining eighteen abortion clinics. Under the new law—which forces clinics to meet incredibly stringent standards unrelated to women's health—all but seven of these clinics would have been forced to close. 

The court stayed the ruling by a 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the liberals to grant a reprieve. Unsurprisingly, the more conservative justices would have let the law go into effect, effectively shuttering a majority of Texas clinics. The court will decide whether or not to hear arguments in the case (and issue a ruling on the merits) in the fall. 

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