You are browsing the archive for 2018 January 11.

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GOP’s Election Hijacking Tactics Thwarted in Court

January 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

A federal appeals court orders North Carolina to redraw gerrymandered U.S. House districts in two weeks—or the court will.

When a federal appeals court threw out North Carolina’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander this week, it didn’t just boost Democrats’ chances of winning in 2018’s midterm elections.

It served as the latest example of what the state’s GOP has done to hijack the voting process by nothing less than a political coup—or a deliberate effort to turn a once-purple state with the South’s most progressive voting laws into a red-run vote-suppressing bastion.

“It’s hard to imagine a more egregious gerrymander,” Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago Law School professor who has been leading the legal battle to overturn extreme redistricting at the Supreme Court, wrote on ElectionLawblog. The ruling by Judge James A. Wynn Jr. was the first time a federal appeals court struck down a congressional map as an illegal partisan gerrymander.

“The authors of the [now-overturned] North Carolina plan gleefully boasted of their partisan motives, achieved some of the worst partisan asymmetries of the last half-century, and ensured that their handiwork would be immune to all but the biggest wave—all in a state whose political geography, according to the computer simulations, mildly favors Democrats,” Stephanopoulos said.

The lengthy ruling is the third major court decision that declares North Carolina’s Republicans have broken the law when carving up the state’s electoral districts after the 2011 Census. The focus of Wynn’s ruling are the state’s 13 U.S. House seats, 10 of which are held by Republicans. That decision follows two prior federal court rulings that two House seats and 28 state legislative seats were illegal racial gerrymanders, because they drew districts using the voters' racial identities.

The congressional maps that were thrown out this week were drafted in a special legislative session in 2016 after the state lost the racial gerrymander cases. In other words, the GOP ignored those rulings and found another way to keep its House majority. 

The Republican gerrymanders were the starting line of war on blue voters this decade. After the 2010 …read more


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Trump's Move against Salvadorans Won't Make Them Leave — or Help U.S. Workers

January 11, 2018 in Economics

By David Bier

David Bier

Trump administration officials announced this
past week that the government would terminate provisional residency
permits for about 200,000 Salvadorans next year. The decision is
part of President Trump’s “America first” agenda,
restricting the rights of immigrants in order to protect U.S.
workers. But, as previous immigration experiments demonstrate, the
policy will not aid American workers. And it certainly won’t
make Salvadorans pack their bags. Trump’s order is likely to
have the opposite effects.

President George W. Bush granted Salvadorans
temporary protected status (TPS) after devastating earthquakes hit
El Salvador in 2001. He and President Barack Obama repeatedly
extended the status. Beyond its humanitarian impact, TPS provides
significant economic benefits. It doesn’t give applicants access to any federal welfare
— so there are few costs — but it does grant the legal
right to work. And Salvadorans with TPS work at very high rates:
Eighty-eight percent
participate in the labor force, compared with 63 percent of all

Legal employment has helped Salvadorans achieve a relatively
high standard of living. The median household income for
Salvadorans with TPS is $50,000, higher than the
roughly $36,000 for unauthorized immigrants. Their higher wages,
combined with the lack of public benefits, has been a big win for
U.S. taxpayers.

Canceling TPS will make it illegal for these Salvadorans to
work, but it’s unlikely to force them home. In 1990, President
George H.W. Bush granted TPS to some 185,000 Salvadorans during
the country’s civil war, and when President Bill Clinton canceled
their status in 1996, few returned.
Deportations rose only slightly, and many
Salvadorans just worked illegally until 2001.

The decision to cancel
protections for 200,000 immigrants will backfire.

At this point, 28 years since the original TPS designation and
17 years since the subsequent one, the incentives to stay will be
too large for any mass migration back to El Salvador. Trump can try
to drive them out with immigration raids and increased
deportations, as other presidents have tried, but the highest
percentage of unauthorized immigrants deported in a given year is
2.1 percent -
three times
the amount this administration deported in 2017.

Losing the legal right to work doesn’t prevent immigrants from
finding jobs. They can use fake or borrowed documents from U.S.
citizen family members, or employers can pay them off the books.
Illegal employment, however, pays less than legal employment
— employers compensate for taking
the risk of hiring someone who …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Florida Prisoners Are Preparing to Strike Against Unpaid Labor

January 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Michael Arria, In These Times

“Prisons in America are nothing but a different form of slavery plantations.”

People incarcerated throughout the state of Florida are planning a January 15 work stoppage to protest their conditions, and they say they are prepared to continue the protest for more than a month.

Prisoners in eight prisons are expected to participate in the effort, which they refer to as Operation PUSH. The strike, which was purposely scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, is designed to advance three major changes: a reduction of canteen prices, payment for labor and parole incentives for prisoners serving life sentences. It is not immediately clear how many incarcerated people intend to participate.

News of the action spread after a statement was posted on SPARC (Supporting Prisoners and Real Change), a Facebook page used by Florida prisoners and their families. The statement was compiled from a series of messages sent by prisoners to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee’s Gainesville chapter and the national Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.

“Every institution must prepare to lay down for at least one month or longer,” the statement reads. “Our goal is to make the governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total breakdown. In order to become very effective, we must use everything we have to show that we mean business.”

The prisoners’ statement claims that cases of soup purchased in the prisons cost $17—well above their cost outside of the prison. “This is highway robbery without a gun,” says the post. They’re also asking for payment for their labor, “rather than the current slave arrangement.” Despite a few exceptions, Florida is one of only six states where prison jobs remain unpaid.

As prison activists consistently point out, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime.”

Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, told In These Times that the state imposes numerous other restrictions, including a ban on Prison Legal News, a magazine dedicated to the subject of prison-related civil …read more


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While Appearing to Struggle With National Anthem, Analysis Shows Trump Speaks at, Like, Fourth Grade Level

January 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Julia Conley, Common Dreams

After months of attacking football players for kneeling during the anthem—and bragging about his intelligence—Trump appears to forget the song's words.

President Donald Trump's appearance at the national college football championship game Monday night was met with protests both at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium and on social media, where critics also noted that the president appeared to forget the words to the national anthem.



Trump mouthed words to some sections of the song but appeared lost during others, just hours after his latest attack on football players who have kneeled during the anthem prior to games in protest of the United State's epidemic of police brutality toward black Americans.






The football game commenced just after a new analysis was released showing that Trump speaks roughly at a fourth grade level, with the worst vocabulary of any president since Herbert Hoover. The study, by the political analysis firm Factbase, followed the president's tweet over the weekend in which he claimed “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”



At the game, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP urged protesters to wear white and …read more


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A Watergate Moment? The Fusion GPS Testimony Could Change History

January 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Dianne Feinstein’s decision to release Glenn Simpson’s testimony has a long history, and could have a huge impact.

One of the most misunderstood quotes from the Watergate scandal is also one of the most famous: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” That was uttered by Sen. Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican, and it's often assumed it was a tough question hurled at a recalcitrant witness, seeking to implicate Richard Nixon. In fact, it was the opposite. Baker asked that question repeatedly, early in the Watergate hearings, in an attempt to wall off the president from the suspected criminality of his staff. Of course, Nixon actually ran the coverup, as the committee holding those hearings was about to find out.

Baker has always been seen as something of a hero in the Watergate story, and it's really overblown. In the beginning, he met secretly with Nixon to keep him informed about the course of the Watergate committee's investigation. Baker told the president that the plan was to start with public testimony by the smaller fry and move up to high-ranking White House staff. Nixon wanted to make a deal with the committee to have the witnesses testify in private. Since the Democratic majority controlled the committee, that was a non-starter anyway. But much as Baker wanted to help out his president, and may have even believed in the beginning that Nixon was not implicated in criminal misdeeds, Baker was also smart enough not to help Nixon obstruct justice.

Those hearings, held by what was officially called the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, where Baker was the ranking Republican under Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., the chair, were vastly important in unraveling the scandal. First came former White House counsel John Dean's dramatic testimony that implicated the president, and then the revelation by former presidential aide Alexander Butterfield that Nixon had extensive tape recordings of everything that happened in the Oval Office. Presidential aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson all testified, lied to the committee under oath and were subsequently convicted and went to prison. The …read more


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Why Are So Many of Our Pets Overweight?

January 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Deborah Linder, The Conversation

As with humans, obesity in our companion animals is a global epidemic.

When I looked at my appointment book for the day, I thought something must be wrong. Someone who worked in the fitness industry was bringing his cat in to the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals. Did he confuse us for a different kind of weight management clinic? Is he looking to get muscle on his cat or maybe kitty protein shakes?

I was utterly surprised when I called for my appointment in the lobby and an athletic man stood up with an almost 20-pound cat! I asked if I could speak bluntly with him. Why does someone who clearly knows a lot about keeping healthy need to bring his cat to a veterinary nutritionist? What would he say if the cat was one of the people he helps to keep fit every day? Our conversation then went something like this…

“Well, I’d tell her, suck it up, buttercup. Do some kitty pushups and no more treats!”

“Well, I have to ask, then, what’s stopping you from doing this with your cat?”

With a worried look of guilt on his face, he replied, “Well, Dr. Linder, I mean… she meows at me…”

This was the moment I realized that I was treating pet obesity all wrong. I needed to focus less on the pet and more on the relationship between people and their pets. That’s what’s literally cutting the lives short of the dogs and cats we love so much.

An obese pet isn’t a happy pet

As with humans, obesity in pets is at epidemic proportions. Over half of the dogs and cats around the globe battle the bulge.

Don’t fall for those puppy dog eyes. Liliya Kulianionak/

While overweight pets may not face the same social stigma as humans, medical and emotional damage is being done all the same. Obesity in animals can cause complications in almost every system in the body, with conditions ranging from diabetes to osteoarthritis.

Owners often say …read more


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Special Facebook Live from the King Center for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 11, 2018 in History

By History Staff

Join a special History Facebook Live panel discussion about racism and history hosted by the King Center in Atlanta. The event will be broadcast on Monday Jan. 15, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. ET.

This discussion will bring together a wide range of voices for a frank conversation about how to “heal the disconnect between people of America from different ideological, cultural, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds.”

Moderated by pastor and author John Gray, scheduled to appear are:

  • Pastor Mike Hayes, Founder of Covenant Church, Texas
  • Raphael Warnock, Pastor Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta
  • Robert E. Lee, Descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
  • Daryl Davis, Musician, author, lecturer, actor and race relations expert
  • Scott Shepherd, Former Grand Wizard, KKK
  • Bishop Harry Jackson, Pastor of Hope Christian Church
  • Jaime Harrison, Chair of South Carolina Democratic Party.
  • Randy Evans, Law Partner at Dentons LLP, and future Ambassador to Luxembourg

Established in 1968 by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”) is a global destination, resource center and community. Nearly a million people each year make pilgrimages to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park to learn, be inspired and pay their respects to Dr. King’s legacy.

The event is part of a week-long celebration for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

…read more


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Are Crude Oil Prices Becoming Immune to Geopolitics?

January 11, 2018 in Economics

By Omar López-Arce


By: Omar López-Arce

Oil seems immune to what in the past — artificially, effectively and quickly — caused a surge in its prices. Recent OPEC cuts have had little (or no) effect on the market. The sanctions from Saudi Arabia (and other countries in the Persian Gulf) on Qatar were barely noticed. Unlike all NYSE indexes, that show a steady post-crisis growth, crude oil benchmarks have not taken off, showing a bear market behavior. Forecasting trends and prices brings up an important question: Will geopolitics alone be able to influence the oil and gas market as it did in the past?

We may be witnessing a more realistic version of the market taking over — the invisible hand in action. New players have a bigger stake on the oil industry, thus the power to influence oil prices is scattered among a larger number of parties rather than a cartel and its allies (as it was in the past with OPEC). The result is that a single action (i.e., cutting oil production) does not have a large effect on the global oil market, because there are other “forces” playing a role almost just as big in the commodity’s overall supply and demand. Perhaps we are approaching to a period of steadier values — i.e., “lower for (much) longer.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that the trends will be easier to predict, but that it may be more difficult for a single party to artificially influence prices.

One thing to watch closely is the current glut and the storage capacity, which is likely what has driven not only the market but also OPEC’s decisions in the last years. Russia has agreed to follow Saudi cuts in a hopes of reducing their current stock and rising crude prices, but the market has showed the opposite. The glut alone is far from being the main price driver. There are two main non-OPEC actors that also play an important role.

China’s Slowdown

China’s energy consumption plays a major role in the global economy. According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, China’s total energy consumption increased less than 2% YoY in the last two years (2015, 2016) and its GDP annual growth rate in 2016 (6.79%) was lower than that one in 2015 (6.9%). Oil consumption shows a rather low increase (3%), half of what the …read more


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Donald Trump Flaunts the Dangers of Presidential Power

January 11, 2018 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

They called the last guy
“No Drama Obama,”
but after the tumultuous,
exhausting, occasionally terrifying first year of this
administration, no one is likely to make that mistake with Donald
Trump. On the plus side, for executive power nerds, the Trump
presidency has been quite the intellectual feast. Almost every day,
our 45th president has turned law school hypotheticals into live
issues, sending us back to the books on questions like:

  • Can a sitting president
    be prosecuted?
  • Does he have the constitutional power to pardon
  • Does
    the 25th Amendment
    allow removal for megalomania and low
    impulse control?
  • And if the president decides to unleash thermonuclear
    “fire and fury” on North Korea, is there anything
    Congress—or anyone else—can do
    to stop him?

At this juncture, the prospect that Trump’s erratic
behavior might irreparably weaken the presidency seems like an odd
thing to worry about, yet some people do. “If Congress and
the courts diminish the power of the office to constrain
him,” Eric Posner and Emily Bazelon wonder in
the New York Times
, “could they leave the office
too weak for future presidents to be able to govern

It’s early days yet, but I’ll hazard a guess: no.
Nearly every modern president has left the office
stronger—and more dangerous—than he found it. So far,
Trump appears unlikely to depart from that pattern.

Barack Obama left office as the first two-termer in American
history to have been at war every single day of his presidency. In
his last year alone, U.S. forces dropped over 26,000 bombs on seven
different countries. Trump
blew past that tally
nine months into his tenure. Indeed, this
putatively “isolationist” president has deepened
entanglements on every battlefield Obama left him, ramping up

kill-or-capture missions
, and
civilian casualties

The legal justification for all this is the 2001 Authorization
for the Use of Force Congress passed three days after 9/11, and
which Trump’s two predecessors transformed into an enabling
act for globe-spanning war. Far from resisting mission creep, the
Trump administration has employed that authority for everything
from boots on the ground in Tongo Tongo to a “Make
Afghanistan Great Again” troop surge.

Outside of the ever-expanding purview of the AUMF, the Trump
administration believes it has enormous inherent powers over war
and peace. And as a practical matter, they may be right:
“don’t expect the law or lawyers to provide avenues to
constrain the President from using force in North Korea,”

warns Jack Goldsmith,
who served in the Justice
Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush

Nearly every modern
president has left the office stronger-and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Deep State Dissonance

January 11, 2018 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

You couldn’t ask for a clearer illustration of the Trump
adminstration’s incoherent stance on intelligence surveillance.
Late Wednesday night, the White House released a statement urging the House to reauthorize the FISA
Amendments Act
, the controversial law authorizing warrantless
electronic surveillance of foreigners’ communications, and opposing
an amendment cosponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Zoe
Lofgren (D-Calif.) that would require FBI agents to obtain a
warrant before searching for Americans’ messages in the vast
database created under the authority.

Just hours later, apparently reacting to a segment on Fox News, however, Donald Trump appeared to
condemn the very legislation his administration had just

About 90 minutes later—presumably following frantic appeals from staffers and Hill
—Trump reversed his seeming reversal:

It’s worth pausing for a moment to note that nearly
everything in both of these tweets is wrong. Thursday’s vote
in the House was on reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act of
2008—section 702 of which provides for the targeting of
foreigners—not the underlying FISA statute passed in 1978.
Wiretap orders for former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort
and Carter Page were obtained under that original FISA authority,
not section 702, and those orders don’t appear to have
covered the time they were actually working for the campaign. It
remains unclear what role, if any, 702 has played in the
investigation into Russian election interference currently being
spearheaded by special counsel Robert Mueller. Since surveillance
under 702 does not require case-by-case approval by the secret
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, wiretaps conducted
pursuant to that authority would not have needed any
“help” from the infamous Steele dossier. Finally, while
CNN has reported that the dossier was cited in
at least some FISA applications, there is no evidence that it was
the primary basis for the warrants that ultimately issued: Most
experts seem to agree such a dossier would likely have been used
as, at most, one of multiple corroborating sources for any facts
alleged in the applications.

The follow-up tweet is also off base, however. A provision
targeting the procedures for “unmasking” the identities
of Americans swept up in 702 surveillance was part of an
earlier version of the reauthorization bill, but it was dropped
from the language voted on by the House on Thursday. And while
section 702 does indeed require that the targets of warrantless
surveillance be foreigners located abroad, it can be used to target
any foreigner—not just “bad guys”—as long
as it’s for a valid intelligence purpose, and it is not
limited to their foreign communications. Indeed, the central
controversy over the bill centers on the FBI’s ability …read more

Source: OP-EDS