You are browsing the archive for 2018 February 02.

Avatar of admin

by admin

The Supreme Court Is About to Make Rulings That Will Shape Elections for Years to Come

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Click here for reuse options!


Recent signals from the Court suggest extreme politics may step on voting rights.


The U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by a Republican-appointed majority, is poised to issue a series of voting rights rulings this spring that will set the stage for elections for years to come.

The majority of these cases involve gerrymandering—a process in which legislatures, in states with one-party rule, draw electoral districts to lock down their power after the once-a-decade U.S. Census. They do that by aggressively segregating reliable voters, typically “packing” their base into easily won seats; while “cracking” their opponent’s voters into multiple districts. Such mapmaking can give its author's party a starting-line advantage of 6 percent or more with likely voter turnout.

There are two kinds of gerrymandering cases before the Supreme Court. Both date to maps drawn in 2011. The first concerns race-based cracking and packing, which is illegal, but has been used by the GOP in Texas (where a case that’s been litigated for years will finally be heard) and in North Carolina (where the Court last year ruled against the GOP; but that was before Justice Neil Gorsuch was seated). The second category concerns excessive partisanship, which lower federal and state courts have found goes beyond politics-as-usual and is unconstitutional.

Voting rights advocates hope those federal and state rulings would give the Supreme Court some comfort in reining in excessive partisan gerrymanders. But recent signs suggest the opposite may be in the works. Predicting what the Court will do is dicey. But the worrisome signs are coming from a series of gerrymandering-based appeals that have landed on the Court’s door since December. The Court has added new cases and issued orders in others—recent moves that make advocates of more open elections nervous.

Those gerrymander butterflies come after an early January Supreme …read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

Truck Drives Over 2,000-Year-Old Desert Hieroglyphs

February 2, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

On January 27, 2018, a truck driver plowed into a UNESCO World Heritage site in Peru. The mysterious ancient site consists of lines drawn in the dirt, meaning it was pretty easy for the truck to damage it.

Roughly 2,000 years ago, members of a pre-Inca civilization carved the Nazca Lines into an area about 250 miles south of Lima, Peru. From the ground, it’s hard to see what the big deal is. But aerial views reveal that the lines form a large, complicated hieroglyphs whose meaning remains a puzzle.

It’s not clear why the truck driver barreled past the warning signs around the site and sped over the lines. Peru’s Attorney General says there’s not enough evidence the man intentionally damaged them, and won’t press charges.

The driver is far from the first to damage the world’s best-known example of geoglyphs: In 2014, the environmental activist organization Greenpeace got in trouble when its members placed a sign near the Nazca Lines’ hummingbird hieroglyph, leaving footprints at the site.

Greenpeace activists standing next to large letters that spell out “Time for Change: The Future is Renewable” next to the hummingbird geoglyph in Nazca, Peru. (Credit:Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo)

Historians and archaeologist aren’t sure why the etchings were made or what they mean, but many speculate that they have to do with astronomy and rituals. From above, you can see the lines form geometric shapes like squares and triangles, as well as bird, spider, and monkey images.

There are some humanoid hieroglyphs, too, like “The Astronaut,” a happy-looking figure that may remind modern viewers of a gingerbread man. There’s also a glyph that depicts decapitation, and one that appears to show a mythical creature with many legs.

Researchers in the 1940s concluded based on the lines’ positioning that they probably had astronomical and calendrical importance. Some of the hieroglyphs, for example, may have represented constellations of stars in the sky. More recent research suggests they might have been used in rain rituals.


Tire damage from the truck that drove into the Nazca Lines in Peru. (Credit: Culture Minister of Peru)

In 2015, researchers at a Society for American Archeology meeting suggested that the Nazca Lines’ purpose could have changed over time. They posited that the lines were first used as …read more

Source: HISTORY

Avatar of admin

by admin

Jim Hightower: Why the Majority of Americans Despise Trump's Washington

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Jim Hightower, AlterNet

The president isn't as popular as he claims.


Donald Trump, never lacking in self-esteem, bragged in 2016: “I know words—I have the best words.”

Well, sometimes he does put together a coherent sentence, using some very fine words that convey great promise, such as this one: “I'm going to fight for every person in this country who believes government should serve the people—not the donors and special interests.” And if those words are too highbrow for you, Trump made the same promise with some punchier words, declaring he would “drain the swamp” to rid Washington of those creepy, crawly corporate lobbyists.

Excellent words! But words only matter if the speaker actually means them, backing their rhetorical promise with action. As we've seen though, far from draining the swamp, this president proceeded immediately to convert the White House itself into a fetid cesspool of self-serving corporate executives, lobbyists, and banksters.

His transition team was almost exclusively made up of those swamp critters. His $100-million, glitzy inaugural celebration was bankrolled by Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Pharma and other Bigs that attached their legislative and regulatory demands to the checks they donated. Most of his cabinet members, agency heads and top aides came straight out of Wall Street and corporate suites, turning Trump's government into a gold-plated sump pump that's routinely funneling trillions of our dollars and thousands of special favors to the moneyed elite.

Asked why he appointed only multimillionaire Wall Street hucksters to design and administer his economic policy, he offered this scramble of words that inadvertently revealed his true, plutocratic soul: “I love all people, rich or poor. But in these positions, I just don't want a poor person.”

Really? Not even one official who understands poverty from firsthand experience, rather than from the bias of right-wing ideologues? And what about those hard-hit middle-class workers Trump always talks about? Nope. He's not appointed even one to a top policy position. So, forget Trump's words. If the poor and middle class aren't in his government, they're neither in his heart nor in his policies.

It's odd that Washington Republicans are so publicly high-fiving …read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

If You Want to Expand Our Welfare System, Call It 'Assistance to the Poor'

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Ashley Jardina, Talk Poverty

The term 'welfare' is inescapably tied to race.


Last Spring, in a 

Source: Author’s analysis of 2014 General Social Survey data.

These same racial attitudes also structure the way policies are designed. They inform which groups we think are deserving of assistance, and which are not. Nicholas Winter, for instance, notes that part of why Social Security is so relatively popular compared to welfare is because of how both policies are racialized. Social Security, he argues, has been framed as a policy that is both universal—that is, it benefits all groups—and as one that has been contrasted with welfare as an earned reward for hard work (stereotypes associated with white people), rather than a handout for the lazy and dependent (stereotypes associated with black people).

In contrast, negative beliefs about the beneficiaries of programs we think of as welfare have arguably lead to a system of surveillance and sanctions. After Reagan popularized the disparaging stereotype of the ‘welfare queen’ in the 1980s, Bill Clinton passed welfare reform policies that restricted access to benefits to satisfy racist attitudes. In addition to placing significant and often unfair burdens on the individuals seeking assistance, these restrictions—like required drug-testing of program applicants, restrictions on where benefits can be spent, and specifications on what types of work count toward required hours—relied on stereotypes and reinforced the belief that beneficiaries of these programs are undeserving. According to work by Joe Soss and Sanford F. Schram, more people believed that welfare benefits lead to dependency in 2003 than in 1989.

The media have played a significant role in establishing the link between poverty, welfare, and race in the public mind. According to Gilens, these trends were forged in the 1960s, when race riots drew the nation’s attention to the black urban poor. In just three years—from 1964 to 1967—the percentage of poverty news stories that featured images of black people grew from 27 percent to 72 percent. These trends have persisted in the present day.

But both Gilens’ and Winters’ work suggests that the media can also help promote anti-poverty legislation by avoiding racialized terms, like welfare, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

Daniel McAdams on the Real Cost of "Defense"

February 2, 2018 in Economics

By Daniel McAdams, Jeff Deist

Mises Weekends with Jeff Deist

By: Daniel McAdams, Jeff Deist

Daniel McAdams from the Ron Paul Institute joins Jeff Deist for an unbridled discussion of the true costs of war. We know the US spends more on “defense” than many big countries combined, but what are the actual numbers? How long can the federal budget sustain empire and entitlements? Will rising interest rates finally force Congress to stop expanding wars, building bases, buying useless weapons systems, and meddling around the world? And is Trump the president far more hawkish than Trump the candidate? This is a great conversation with one of the leading libertarian foreign policy voices.

…read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

Avatar of admin

by admin

Huge Military Budgets Make Us Broke, Not Safe

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Miriam Pemberton, OtherWords

Backing down from nuclear war would make us a lot safer than piling more money into the Pentagon.


We’re all tense. Hearing about our fellow citizens in Hawaii scrambling around, looking for a place to hide from a nuclear bomb, will do that to you. So will contests between two unstable world leaders over the size of their nuclear buttons.

Now, some politicians say they’ll protect us by adding massive amounts to the Pentagon budget. This seems like a no-brainer: feel threatened, give more money to the military. But it isn’t.

Practically everyone from the president on down, though, seems to take it as a given. “In confronting these horrible dangers,” Donald Trump said during his State of the Union, “I’m calling on Congress” to “fully fund our great military.”

The president and his party are now looking to add somewhere between $30 and $70 billion more in military spending to their budget for next year — on top of the increases for this year. Democrats seem willing to go along, with a few caveats.

Nobody seems worried anymore about adding to the financial hole we just dug for ourselves and our children with $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the rich.

It’s true that the military needs predictability, which has been hobbled by politicians who can’t get it together to pass a real budget. Every enterprise, except maybe improv comedy, does. But it’s not true that the military needs more money.

The portrait of a “starved” military, which Trump and his secretary of defense like to complain about, airbrushes out a few facts.

We’re now spending more on the military, adjusted for inflation, than at any time since World War II — including during the Reagan and George W. Bush buildups. We spend more than the next eight countries put together.

Worse still, the military can’t even say what it’s actually spending — it’s still the only federal agency that can’t pass an audit. The brass says they’ll really try this year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Trusting the Pentagon to rein in its own waste hasn’t worked. Back in 2015, the Pentagon’s own …read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

4 Ways Trump and GOP Have Launched a Full-Out Assault on America's Poorest

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Ebony Slaughter-Johnson, AlterNet

Click here for reuse options!


Republican policies seek to punish poor Americans.


During the first year of the Trump administration, the word “unprecedented” has been used so many times it has almost lost its meaning. But there simply is no other word to describe this presidency. First and foremost, there is the unprecedented degree to which the administration has attacked the country’s institutions in ways that threaten the foundations of our democracy. But this first year is also unique because of the unforgiving extent to which the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have leveled legislative assaults against poor people. 

1. Attempts to Repeal the Affordable Care Act

Perhaps no issue is more indicative of this Congress’s hostility toward poor Americans than the slew of legislation introduced to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. After the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Senate Republicans took their own stab at dismantling the ACA, culminating in the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). Like their counterparts in the House, Senate Republicans suggested repealing the ACA’s taxes, restructuring its subsidies, eventually ending the Medicaid expansion and empowering states to opt out of some of the ACA’s mandated insurance features. BCRA tied the distribution of subsidies back to income, but in a reversal of the ACA, capped eligibility at 350 percent of the poverty line rather than 400 percent beginning in 2020.

To add insult to injury, subsidies would be much smaller—premiums for a mid-level plan for a 64-year-old who earned $26,500 a year could have skyrocketed by 2026 to $6,500. And that’s after the subsidies kicked in.

Between the lower subsidy limit and the less generous benchmark plan, poor Americans would have ended up paying more for lower quality insurance plans with premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs so high they might …read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

Mass Grave in England May Hold a ‘Lost’ Viking Army

February 2, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

A double grave discovered. (Credit: Martin Biddle/University of Bristol)

In the mid-ninth century, a Viking military force known as the Great Heathen Army invaded England. It marked the transition among Vikings from raiding cities to conquering them, and is considered an important historical event in the creation of England. Yet for decades, no one could find any archaeological evidence to back this up.

Now, a group of researchers at the University of Bristol in England think they might have found that evidence—i.e., the soldiers’ bones.

However, initial carbon dating placed the skeletons in earlier centuries, leading researchers to conclude that they couldn’t be Viking soldiers. It was only after adjusting for Vikings’ seafood diet that researchers were able to correctly carbon date them to the 9th century.

VIDEO: Viking Women – In Viking society, women enjoyed a surprising degree of autonomy and independence.

The bones come from a mass grave of at least 264 skeletons at St. Wystan’s church in Repton, Derbyshire, that archaeologists first excavated in the 1970s and ‘80s. Historical records tell us the Viking army spent the winter in Repton in 873 A.D., so many thought carbon dating would show the bones came from that time period.

“When we eat fish or other marine foods, we incorporate carbon into our bones that is much older than in terrestrial foods,” said lead archaeologist Cat Jarman, according to a University of Bristol press release. “This confuses radiocarbon dates from archaeological bone material and we need to correct for it by estimating how much seafood each individual ate.”

Other clues support the theory that these are remnants of the Viking army. Many of these skeletons showed signs of violent injury. And near these remains, researchers also discovered an axe and several knives that dated to 872-875 A.D. About 20 percent of these skeletons were female, a fact that had previously raised doubts that this was a grave for Viking soldiers. But since their discovery, DNA evidence has proven that not all Viking soldiers were male.

A double grave discovered. (Credit: Martin Biddle/University of Bristol)

The Great Heathen Army gets its name from the English Christians whose land the Vikings began invading around 865 A.D. Also known as the Great Viking Army, this military force defeated Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and …read more

Source: HISTORY

Avatar of admin

by admin

The 1965 Political Blunder That Beget Current U.S. Immigration Policy

February 2, 2018 in History

By Steven M. Gillon

An immigrant family on Ellis Island looking across New York Harbor at the Statue of Liberty, 1930s. (Credit: FPG/Getty Images)

History Reads is a weekly series featuring work from Team History, a group of experts and influencers, exploring history’s most fascinating questions.

Debates over immigration policy have assumed center stage in Washington and have even contributed to a government shutdown. President Donald Trump and his conservative allies want to put an end to “chain migration” that he says allows “truly evil” people into the United States. Unfortunately, Trump has tainted his proposals with racist outbursts that suggest his policy is designed to keep out more than terrorists and gang members. Democrats counter that immigrants have come to America as family units since the founding of the Republic. Both sides have hunkered down, convinced of their own righteousness and certain that history is on their side.

Few, however, know that the emphasis on family unification was the product of a legislative compromise between President Lyndon Johnson and an obscure Ohio congressman, Michael Feighan. It resulted from political expediency, not careful analysis, and it now stands as a prime example of how immigration policy today is the product of unintended consequences.

Since the 1920s, the national origins clause had served as the centerpiece of U.S. immigration policy. Under the system, the government allocated visas to nations in ratios determined by the number of persons in the United States in 1920. Since most of the people living in the U.S. at that time had roots in Northern and Western Europe, the clause effectively curtailed new waves of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Europe consumed 98 percent of the quota, leaving only 2 percent for the rest of the world. Three countries—Ireland, Great Britain, and Germany—accounted for nearly 70 percent of the total. The quota did not apply to spouses or minor children of U.S. citizens or to residents of the Western Hemisphere, who could emigrate without restriction.

An immigrant family on Ellis Island looking across New York Harbor at the Statue of Liberty, 1930s. (Credit: FPG/Getty Images)

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy, a proud descendant of Irish immigrants, submitted a new immigration plan to Congress. The centerpiece of his legislation was a phaseout of the national origins provision over a five-year period. In its place, Kennedy proposed that immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere apply on a “first-come, first-served” basis within specific preference categories. Half of the visas would be allotted based …read more

Source: HISTORY

Avatar of admin

by admin

Trump's Solar Tariffs Are Bad, but so Are Solar Subsidies

February 2, 2018 in Economics

By Robert P. Murphy

131017-F-PB776-001.JPG

By: Robert P. Murphy

The Trump Administration has enacted tariffs on imported solar cells and larger modules (as well as on washing machines). In general, tariffs are counterproductive, because they only help some producers at the expense of others, and they unambiguously raise prices for consumers. That logic applies to this case as well. However, insofar as the American solar companies that import cells and modules are some of the biggest losers in this deal, they have little grounds for complaint, as they are already receiving lavish benefits from provisions in the tax code. Two wrongs don’t make a right, to be sure, but employment in the renewables sector is arguably closer to the “natural” level after this latest move by the federal government.

The Context for the Announcement

The tariffs on solar cells and modules start at 30 percent in the first year, and then fall by 5 percentage points until reaching 15 percent. According to the Administration, the purpose of the tariffs is to correct for the distortion in trade caused by the Chinese government’s use of “state incentives, subsidies, and tariffs to dominate the global supply chain” in this arena.

Back in the fall, the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended that the federal government enact tariffs in response to China’s allegedly unfair practices. Indeed, the Obama Administration had reached a similar conclusion, as CNBC explains:

The Obama administration twice placed tariffs on solar imports from China, but Chinese companies skirted the penalties by moving production to neighboring countries. The Trump administration’s tariffs close that loophole by applying tariffs to all solar cell and module imports.

I personally don’t recall as much outrage over the Obama Administration’s moves when they occurred.

Tariffs, a Blunt and Inefficient Instrument

In general, economists from across the political spectrum agree that tariffs are a very blunt instrument, and reduce economic efficiency. They, of course, have the ability to help certain producers—that’s why tariffs exist—but in general, the gains to the winners are smaller than the losses to the losers. As such, when the U.S. government imposes a new tariff, it makes Americans per capita poorer than they otherwise would be.

The pithiest case against tariffs was penned by Henry George, who observed: “What protection teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.” (Quote from page 47 here.) For an introduction to the …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE