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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.

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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.”

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June 29 2015 10:34 PM

California Sends Strict Vaccination Bill Ending Religious and Personal Exemptions to Governor

The California state Senate on Monday approved a stricter bill that would make vaccinations mandatory for more schoolchildren, clearing the final legislative hurdle for SB277, and sending the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown has not stated publically whether he would sign the measure that would end personal or religious exemptions, but would still allow for medical exemptions. The bill passed through the state house with bipartisan support.

“Children whose parents refuse vaccination can try to obtain a medical exemption or be homeschooled,” according to the Associated Press. “Otherwise, school-age children who currently claim a personal belief exemption will need to get fully vaccinated by kindergarten and seventh grade, the state's two vaccine checkpoints.”

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The measure would be one of the strictest in the nation and has been hotly contested in California and beyond, after an outbreak of measles at Disneyland this year sparked a national debate on the risks posed by a growing number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The bill was first passed in May, but the upper house had to approve new amendments aimed at making it easier to get a medical exemption. Most states allow for religious exemptions and 20 allow parents to forego vaccination based on personal beliefs, according to the Wall Street Journal. If the bill is signed into law, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states to prohibit religious and personal-belief exemptions.

Brown has two weeks, until July 13, to sign or veto the measure.

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 Phil 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 Feb. 2010 to Feb. 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.
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Mickelson, ESPN points out, is unlikely to face any penalty as it stands because federal anti-gambling statues target individuals and syndicate’s 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. 

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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.”

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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 illigal 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.

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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. 

June 29 2015 1:43 PM

This Motorcade of Confederate Flag-Waving Drivers Will Make You Cry, Laugh

If you find unabashed displays of ignorance and insensitivity to be infuriating, or even sad, then the first 65 seconds of this video of a motorcade of Confederate flag-waving cars in Georgia might bother you. But if you like sweet karmic justice, then watch the entire thing.

Reddit surfaced the video of the protest, which some of its users say took place Saturday in Dalton, Georgia. It’s possible that the motorcade was part of a protest that took place at Fort Oglethorpe military park, which is a 30-minute drive from Dalton. That protest was in response to Confederate flags being removed from gift shops at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which includes Fort Oglethorpe. The group of protesters told a local ABC affiliate that they would be protesting there every Saturday for the foreseeable future. The protesters proudly proclaimed that the flag represented “heritage not hate,” which ignores both the history of the flag and its specific use by the white supremacist who allegedly murdered nine people at a historically black church in Charleston earlier this month.

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While shoving that banner in the faces of their neighbors so soon after the shooting is not a laughing matter, two bozos crashing into each other while demonstrating their insensitivity sure is.

June 29 2015 1:02 PM

The Only Thing Keeping the Iran Talks Going Is the Desperation of Two Presidents

With the ongoing talks over Iran’s nuclear program on track to continue past tomorrow’s deadline and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif heading back to Tehran for consultations with his government, major differences between the two sides remain over issues including the pace of sanctions relief, inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and whether Tehran will account for its past alleged military activities. Amid this bleak landscape, the main reason to still expect a deal to come together is the amount of political capital the Iranian and American presidential administrations have sunk into making it work—and just how bad it would look for both if it didn’t. That’s not nothing.

The other five powers negotiating with Iran haven’t demonstrated the same sense of urgency. France, which has surprised many by taking the toughest line in the P5+1, has consistently said that there’s no reason to rush a deal rather than wait for Iran to accept more favorable terms. On the other side, Iran’s trading partner Russia, which doesn’t have an awful lot to gain from improved U.S.-Iranian ties, hasn’t demonstrated much willingness to make major political compromises to further a deal’s chances.  

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The Americans can’t afford to be so blasé. Some of the time pressures on the administration are legally binding: Thanks to an agreement reached with a skeptical Congress, if the White House can’t present a deal to Congress by July 9, the mandated congressional review period doubles from 30 days to 60 days. If there’s no deal by September, Congress can seek to put new sanctions in place. Politically, the president has also made clear that he views the deal as the centerpiece of his foreign policy. If nothing else, the deal, which aides have compared to the Affordable Care Act in its political importance, would be a rare diplomatic victory amid the shambles of U.S. policy in the Middle East. It won’t be clear for some time if an agreement is successful at preventing Iran from building a nuclear program, and Republicans will likely criticize sanctions relief as too generous no matter what happens, but Democrats would no doubt like to have some deal in place before a presidential campaign involving the president’s former secretary of state ramps up. 

The pressure is even greater for President Hassan Rouhani, for whom achieving détente with the West and securing sanctions relief are not only his primary foreign policy goal, but his primary plan for rescuing Iran’s faltering economy. A majority of Iranians support the deal, and his election was widely seen as a mandate to attempt to improve relations with the West. If he fails, he’ll face an immediate backlash not only from opponents but from supporters as well.

After Rouhani recently suggested that cleaning up Iran’s environment would be easier once sanctions were lifted, opponents mocked him for tying the “water, wind, soil and forests” to his signature diplomatic initiative. He has also frustrated some supporters by avoiding confrontation with hard-liners in Tehran, including over human rights issues, in a bid to win support for the nuclear deal. This has had mixed success. The president has been heckled by opponents of the agreement in public appearances, and the legislature has sought to add conditions to the deal, reducing his room to negotiate. Most importantly, Iran’s supreme leader has publicly ruled out some of the compromises that will likely be required to make a deal work, though some observers say these statements shouldn’t be taken at face value. Rouhani’s allies are hopeful of a major political breakthrough in next year’s legislative elections, but they likely need a nuclear deal and the accompanying sanctions relief to avoid a return to the political wilderness.

On the surface, all signs point toward the talks collapsing right now, but given what’s at stake for these two presidents, it’s hard to imagine them leaving the table until all hope has been lost—maybe even longer.

June 29 2015 12:26 PM

In a Brave, Powerful Dissent, Justice Breyer Calls for the Abolition of the Death Penalty

Justice Stephen Breyer took a brave, powerful stand against the machinery of death on Monday, writing that, to his mind, “the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited ‘cruel and unusual punishmen[t].’ ” Breyer notes that his “20 years of experience on the court,” during which he has been forced to decide whether myriad inmates may live or die, led him to this conclusion.

In a courageous 41-page dissent from a pro-death penalty ruling joined only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer explains that the startlingly high number of exonerated death row inmates suggests that capital punishment is unreliable and error-prone—in the words of the Eighth Amendment, “cruel.” (In a stunning retort to Justice Antonin Scalia, Breyer discusses the exoneration of Henry Lee McCollum—“Scalia's favorite murderer.”) The death penalty, Breyer writes, is also unconstitutionally arbitrary, dispensed randomly, rarely, and unpredictably. This infrequency renders the punishment unconstitutionally “unusual,” as well.

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Breyer also notes a number of troubling factors in death penalty sentencing. Race may play a role, he writes (correctly), as do judicial elections—judges may condemn convicts to die so that voters will perceive them as tough on crime. Breyer then declares:

The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant’s perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law? 

Predictably, Breyer's dissent sends Scalia and Clarence Thomas into fits of rage. Scalia asserts that Breyer “rejects the Enlightenment” and “takes on the role of the abolitionists in this long-running drama.” Thomas details the grisly murders with which several death row inmates were charged, as if to say that, no matter how painful their punishment, they'll get what they deserve.

But neither justice really contends with the moral passion and legal logic that Breyer carefully lays out in his opinion. Like Justice Harry Blackmun before him, Breyer has decided that the Constitution can no longer condone America's peculiar practice of state-sanctioned murder. The machinery of death may grind on. But Justice Breyer dissents.

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