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Trump and GOP Want the Supreme Court to Take on a Major Gerrymandering Battle in Pennsylvania

February 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

The GOP is backed into a corner and eyeing desperate measures.


A crystal ball revealing the Republican Party’s future has appeared in Pennsylvania, where top GOP legislators, joined by national Republicans including the president, see their power threatened and are behaving like cornered rats—striking out in all directions.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a new map of its 18 House districts to make 2018’s congressional races more competitive. The Court-imposed maps came after the GOP-led state legislature failed to redraw the boundaries under the Court’s criteria, which sought more balanced and representative districts.

By Tuesday, Pennsylvania Republicans, egged on by their Washington counterparts, vowed to file a federal lawsuit—even though the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an earlier appeal by the state's Republicans over the revised congressional maps.

“The suit will highlight the state Supreme Court’s rushed decision that created chaos, confusion, and unnecessary expense in the 2018 election cycle,” a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman said, adding the GOP will sue “as soon as tomorrow to prevent the new partisan map from taking effect.” 

“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court, if necessary,” tweeted Trump. “Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

The GOP knows that courts are reluctant to interfere in elections; hence its accusation the state's Supreme Court has sown chaos and confusion. They are suggesting that the judicial process in Pennsylvania, which holds 2018 primary elections on May 15, has created a political crisis, when, in fact, “this is perfectly normal procedure,” as James A. Gardner, a University of Buffalo law professor, told the Philadelphia Enquirer.

But local Republicans and their national allies are huffing and puffing the U.S. Supreme Court should intervene, because, in effect, they have lost in state court, failed to produce remedies that would satisfy Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and see the likely outcome: they will be forced to compete fairly and probably lose some seats. The Republicans now hold 13 of the state's …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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1950s Lessons in Germ-Fighting from a Giant Bar of Talking Soap

February 21, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that getting kids to care about their personal hygiene will always be a Herculean task. The most popular toys and sleep training techniques may change with the decades, but one thing will always remain the same: convincing your little ones to wash up is a challenge.

In 1951, a group of well-meaning adults came up with an idea for how to convince young boys and girls to wash their hands. They created an educational video starring a ghostly bar of talking soap that visited kids in the middle of the night to instruct them on the importance of cleanliness. Watching this over 60 years later, it’s hard to determine whether children in the 1950s found this to be informative or merely terrifying. But what we do know is that this cinematic gem is a hilarious look back at how this centuries-old hygiene problem was tackled many decades ago.

Soap Is Very, Very Old 

While the identity of the clean freak who invented soap remains unknown, the earliest use of the sudsy cleanser on record dates back to the ancient Babylonians around 2800 B.C. After discovering that a mix of animal fat and ash would produce a cleaning product, they helpfully wrote the recipe down on clay tablets for archeologists to later find.

The Babylonians weren’t the only ancients who benefited from this concoction. In the 1st century, the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about the early Romans’ soap making techniques, and bars of soap were discovered in the excavated ruins of Pompeii after the Mount Vesuvius eruption buried the city in 78 A.D.

Early American Colonialists Were a Bit Stinky

It’s not just our stubborn little ones who have resisted what we now know as the basic and essential standards of hygiene. It took the early Americans over a hundred years to discover the benefits of bathing. According to author James Ciment in his book Colonial America, bathing for the purpose of cleanliness didn’t hit most Americans’ radars until the 1780s. Before that, they thought a good splash in the water was only useful as …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Only Known Boxing Gloves From Roman Empire Discovered

February 21, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

(Credit: The Vindolanda Trust)

Historians have long known that boxing was popular in the Roman Empire. The sport appears in mosaics from the period and pops up in literature like Virgil’s The Aeneid. Now, archaeologists have uncovered more evidence: a pair of well-preserved Roman boxing gloves.

A discovery like this is extremely rare. The gloves are made of leather, a material that typically would have decayed by now. Yet in this case, the artifacts survived because they were buried in an oxygen-deprived environment.

Researchers found the gloves buried under a concrete floor in at Vindolanda, an ancient Roman fort in Northumberland county, England. Romans laid that floor in about 120 C.E., around the same time that they built the nearby Hadrian’s Wall, named for the ruling emperor. As far as researchers at Vindolanda know, these boxing gloves are the only surviving ones from the Roman Empire (though to modern readers, they may look more like “hand protectors” than “gloves”).

(Credit: The Vindolanda Trust)

David Potter, a professor of Greek and Roman history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says boxing’s history dates back at least 3,000 years. Boxing was a sport at the ancient Greek Olympics, and continued as a festival activity under the Roman Empire. But ancient boxing was more risky than the modern version of the sport.

“One of the big features of ancient boxing is there are no weight classes, and there are no time limits,” Potter says. “You just fight till one person’s incapacitated.”

Growing up in the Roman Empire, boys could learn boxing in school. Those who were good enough could become professional boxers, who traveled around the empire competing at festivals.  Both men and women could enter boxing competitions at festivals, though these were always segregated by sex (i.e., women couldn’t fight men). The prize money for winning was good—if you traveled to enough boxing matches per year, you “could certainly make a living doing it,” Potter says.

Boxing was popular throughout the eastern Roman Empire, which included Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. It was also popular in the empire’s North African region. But England, where the only known boxing gloves were found, isn’t typically associated with Roman-era boxing.

“We just have less direct evidence for those kinds of entertainments in the northern part of the empire,” Potter says. Given that researchers date the gloves to the early part of Vindolanda’s Roman occupation, he speculates …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Teachers' Unions Profit While Kids Pick up the Tab

February 21, 2018 in Economics

By Corey A. DeAngelis, Ben DeGrow

Corey A. DeAngelis and Ben DeGrow

This month’s
U.S. Supreme Court hearing
of Illinois state employee Mark
Janus’s case — questioning the constitutionality of mandatory
teachers union dues — could very well lead to a healthier
relationship between labor unions and government workers. And
what’s more, a growing body of research suggests many states could
also help their students in the long-run by making further
adjustments to labor union policy.

At stake in the upcoming Janus v. AFSCME case is a 40-year-old
precedent that allows governments to force state, municipal, and
school district employees to pay union agency fees as part of their
jobs. This is problematic when the values and priorities of union
leaders and individual members clash. Yet these forced payments are
the reality for government workers in 22 states, who could gain the
freedom to decide how to spend hundreds of dollars of their own
earnings each year.

But what happens when the interests of adults, including
education employees, are put before the children’s?


Recent research
presented at the 2018 Meeting of the American
Economic Association by Cornell University’s Michael Lovenheim and
Alexander Willen reveal that forcing school districts to engage in
collective bargaining with labor unions ends up harming
the students
they are supposed to serve. And, unfortunately,
the effects are large.

The impact examined by Lovenheim and Willen affects even more
states than those whose limits to employee freedom are under
scrutiny in the Janus case. Overall, 33 states are
considered “duty-to-bargain
states. Laws require school districts and other government bodies
to reach a formal binding agreement with a union representing some
or all of its employees through the collective bargaining
process.

The Cornell study finds that teachers union “duty-to-bargain”
laws reduce students’ future earnings by around $800 each
year and employment by half an hour per week. And of course, these
effects do not only harm the students. The researchers find that
collective bargaining reduces earnings nationally by about $200
billion each year.

That is nearly equivalent to the gross domestic product in the
entire state of Alabama in 2016. In other words, the effects found
in the study have an economic impact on the U.S. economy similar to
a halt of all productive activities coming from a state like
Alabama.

Lovenheim and Willen provide the first rigorous empirical
evidence that the past focus on building union power to protect
adult education employee interests has dragged down many of today’s
adults. Just as the growing national debt benefits current citizens while forcing future
generations to pick up the tab
, teachers union bargaining laws
steal wealth from future generations because of …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Complex History of 'In God We Trust'

February 21, 2018 in Blogs

By David Mislin, The Conversation

The motto doesn't reflect universally shared historical values.


In his address to the National Prayer Breakfast on the morning of Feb. 8, President Donald Trump emphasized the centrality of faith in American life. After describing the country as a “nation of believers,” Trump reminded his audience that American currency features the phrase “In God We Trust” as does the Pledge of Allegiance. He also declared that “our rights are not given to us by man” but “come from our Creator.”

These remarks come a week after Trump linked religion with American identity in his first State of the Union address. On Jan. 30, he similarly invoked “In God We Trust” while proclaiming an “American way” in which “faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.”

But the history of such language is more complex than Trump’s assertions suggest.

The place of “In God We Trust,” and similar invocations of God in national life, have been a subject of debate. From my perspective as a religious history scholar, they reflect a particular view of the United States, not a universally accepted “American way.”

The Civil War

Political rhetoric linking the United States with a divine power emerged on a large scale with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. M.R. Watkinson, a Pennsylvania clergyman, encouraged the placement of “In God We Trust” on coins at the war’s outset in order to help the North’s cause. Such language, Watkinson wrote, would “place us openly under the divine protection.”

Putting the phrase on coins was just the beginning.

In 1864, with the Civil War still raging, a group supported by the North’s major Protestant denominations began advocating change to the preamble of the Constitution. The proposed language – which anticipated President Trump’s remarks about the origin of Americans’ rights – would have declared that Americans recognized “Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government.”

If the amendment’s supporters had succeeded in having their way, Christian belief would be deeply embedded in the United States government.

But, such invocations of God in national …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The California Activists Who Scared the Soviets Away From the 1984 Olympics

February 21, 2018 in History

By Brianna Nofil

American athletics fans displaying a banner with the message 'To Russia With Love! Having a Great Time, Wish You Were Here', in reference to the boycott of the Games by the Soviet Union. (Credit: Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics have been the first Games in 34 years that Russia has not, technically, attended. After a years-long doping scandal, the International Olympic Committee stripped Russia of 41 medals and formally banned them from this year’s games, leaving their athletes to compete under the clunky banner of “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

But 34 years ago the then-Soviet Union had a perhaps even more dramatic reason for not coming to an Olympic Games: they believed that American radicals were going to kidnap all of their athletes.

In 1984, a ragtag group of right-wing businessmen, advertising executives, and Soviet bloc immigrants were hatching a plan in the sprawling suburbs of Southern California. The Los Angeles Olympics, just weeks away, had been designed to extol the merits of the free market: they’d be privately funded, run by businessmen, and if all went according to plan, would end with an unprecedented surplus of cash.

But this grassroots group, known as the Ban the Soviets Coalition, had a different goal: keeping the Soviet Union athletes out of Los Angeles at all costs.

American athletics fans displaying a banner with the message ‘To Russia With Love! Having a Great Time, Wish You Were Here’, in reference to the boycott of the Games by the Soviet Union. (Credit: Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

The Ban the Soviets Coalition recognized they might not be able to completely thwart the Soviet team. The Soviet Union had sunk billion of rubles into their athletic programs, viewing success on the Olympic stage as a validation of the communist system. So the coalition also had a Plan B: if the Soviets showed up they would attempt to trigger a mass defection, encouraging all the Soviet athletes to claim asylum in the United States.

Russian-language billboards would line the Los Angeles highways, offering instructions on how to claim asylum. “This is the Land of Liberty and This is a Telephone Number You Can Call,” read one proposed street sign. Safe houses would be established throughout Los Angeles, where fleeing athletes could find a place to stay and receive legal support. The Coalition claimed that its operatives had already begun to infiltrate the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and were well placed to assist defectors.

It was a radical plan, and a plan that few believed they could actually carry out. But it hit on a legitimate …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Robert Reich: Morality and the Common Good Must Be at Center of Fighting Trump’s Economic Agenda

February 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Amy Goodman, Juan González, Democracy Now!

Don't just focus on the monster in the White House.


As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a promise to the American people: There would be no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Well, the promise has not been kept. Under his new budget, President Trump proposes a massive increase in Pentagon spending while cutting funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump’s budget would also slash or completely eliminate core anti-poverty programs that form the heart of the U.S. social safety net, from childhood nutrition to care for the elderly and job training. This comes after President Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly favors the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family. We speak to Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, out today, is titled The Common Good.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a promise to the American people: There would be no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

DONALD TRUMP: Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse. But save it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that promise has not been kept. Under his new budget, President Trump proposes a massive increase in Pentagon spending while cutting funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump’s budget would also slash or completely eliminate core anti-poverty programs that form the heart of the U.S. social safety net, from childhood nutrition to care for the elderly and job training. This comes after President Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly favors the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family.

AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest has been one of the vocal critics of President Trump’s economic policies. Robert Reich served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He’s now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, senior fellow at the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Jewish Men Forced to Help Run Auschwitz

February 21, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

The arrival of Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in German-occupied Poland, June 1944. (Credit: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

Lesław Dyrcz leaned over a pile of rubble and dirt, completely unaware that he was about to make a discovery that would shed light on one of history’s darkest moments. It was 1980, and the forestry student was working to help restore the original forest around what was once Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the Nazis’ most notorious death camps. Dyrcz was there to help mitigate the effects decades of air pollution had on the forest, attempting to let its original pine trees grow once more. But the student was about to change history.

As he dug, Dyrcz discovered a leather briefcase buried in the ground. He opened it up and found a thermos. Inside the container were pages of handwritten paper. Though Dyrcz could not read the text—it was written in Greek—he had just discovered one of the most important pieces of testimony of the Holocaust: eyewitness accounts of Nazi crimes, written by Marcel Nadjary, a Jewish man from Greece who had been enslaved with about 2,000 others and forced to help the Nazis as they operated their grimly efficient killing machines.

Nadjary had been one of the Sonderkommando—a group of men, most of them Jewish, tasked with taking the Nazis’ victims from the gas chambers and disposing of the bodies. At the peak of Auschwitz’s operations, up to 6,000 Jews a day were gassed by the Nazis. Then, the Sonderkommando’s unthinkable task began.

The men of the Sonderkommando did more than help dispose of the Nazis’ victims: They also provided critical documentation of their captors’ crimes. Though historians had known about the Sonderkommando, the secrecy of their work and the fact that so many didn’t survive the Holocaust, made testimony like Nadjary’s even more precious.

Even at the height of the Holocaust, the work of the Sonderkommando was shrouded in mystery and performed under threat of death. Since the people brought to the gas chambers were all murdered, the Sonderkommando were the only witnesses who survived. And since they knew the Nazis’ secrets firsthand, their lives at Auschwitz were marked by fear and isolation.

The arrival of Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in German-occupied Poland, June 1944. (Credit: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

The word Sonderkommando means “special unit” in German, and from the start, the men tasked with helping the Nazis lived lives that were different from those of other prisoners at Auschwitz. Young prisoners—all able-bodied men—were …read more

Source: HISTORY