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It Looks Like the Supreme Court Isn't Going to Intervene in Gerrymandering Cases This Election Year

March 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

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They're befuddled. Justice Breyer even suggested all sides weigh in again, and another hearing be held.


One of the most anti-democratic features of the political landscape does not appear destined to change before 2018's midterm elections, even though extreme gerrymanders this week returned to the Supreme Court for the second time this term.

On Wednesday, liberal and conservative justices visibly struggled with how to rein in partisan gerrymanders in a Maryland case. But because the 2018 election is underway—and judges are hesitant to disrupt elections—and the earliest ruling is months away, it appears congressional maps in the most gerrymandered states will remain for 2018’s midterms.

The only exception appears to be Pennsylvania, whose state Supreme Court earlier this year threw out a Republican-authored map for its House districts for violating the state constitution. The court's expert created a new statewide map, giving Democrats chances to pick up several seats. (Top Republicans have called for impeaching the justices who ruled against them.)

But from a national perspective, Democrats seeking to regain a House majority will likely face the same anti-competitive districts that they have seen since 2012. Despite close statewide popular vote results, the GOP typically wins more seats.

“Because of maps designed to favor Republicans, Democrats would need to win by a nearly unprecedented nationwide margin in 2018 to gain control of the House of Representatives,” the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School said in an analysis released before the Court’s hearing. “To attain a bare majority, Democrats would likely have to win the national popular vote by nearly 11 points. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have won by such an overwhelming margin in decades. Even a strong blue wave would crash against a wall of gerrymandered maps.”

Maryland's Democratic Gerrymander

This week’s partisan gerrymandering case …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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LBJ Announced He Wouldn’t Run Again. Political Chaos Ensued

March 30, 2018 in History

By Matthew Dallek

View of anti Vietnam War demonstrators standing and protesting outside the White House during a march to the Pentagon in Washington DC to plead for an end to the conflict, 1967. (Credit: Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Fifty years ago, on March 31, 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on national television and announced that he was partially halting the U.S. bombing of Vietnam, and that he had decided not to seek his party’s nomination for president. “There is division in the American house now,” Johnson declared.

The news that the President had refused to seek re-election sent waves of shock and elation through a stunned electorate. At the same time, his withdrawal from the race crystallized the nature of the conflicts that had split the country along ideological, racial, and class lines so deeply. But within days it became all too apparent that no single act of political sacrifice could repair the divisions in the country. Johnson’s presidency was a symbol and a reflection of the nation’s fissures, but it was not ultimately its root cause.

Johnson himself alluded to the deep roots of the unraveling of America in his surprise announcement: “With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day,” he said, “I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the Presidency of your country.”

His refusal to run again was, on some basic level, a recognition of political reality. For all his legislative achievements (the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare and Medicaid), LBJ had become the face of America’s divisions. To those on the Right, Johnson had done too much, too quickly, overloading the system with big-government programs that trampled on individual liberties. Much of the Left viewed Johnson as the corrupt wheeler-dealer who had lied America into the disastrous, bloody Vietnam quagmire.

LBJ faced long odds in November; his top aides feared that he might not even win re-nomination. With his public approval rating at around 36 percent, LBJ had barely survived a surprisingly strong primary challenge from antiwar Sen. Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire, who took 42 percent of the vote to LBJ’s 48 percent on March 12. Four days later, on March 16, New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, a long-time LBJ nemesis, declared that he, too, would challenge Johnson for the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Warnings of Koch Brothers' Influence After Shulkin Says VA Privatization Advocates Forced Him Out

March 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

“VA is govt-run healthcare that works, and for free market fundamentalists this simply must not be allowed to exist.”


Less than 24 hours after he was ousted as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by President Donald Trump, David Shulkin argued in an op-ed for the New York Times on Thursday that he was forced out by privatization advocates in the White House who saw him as an “obstacle” and warned that handing the department over to the private sector “is a terrible idea.”

Shulkin's account of his firing bolstered concerns expressed by lawmakers, veteran advocacy groups, and other analysts that the new opening at the VA could be seen as an opportunity by the Koch brothers and other far-right figures to dismantle a public healthcare institution which, through its very existence, poses a serious threat to the ideological agenda of “free market fundamentalists.”

“The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing VA,” Shulkin wrote on Thursday. “I can assure you that I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the VA by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.”

 

 

As the government's second-largest agency, the VA has long been a major target of Charles and David Koch, who have used their “front group” Concerned Veterans for America to advocate pushing veterans into the private healthcare market and sharply reducing the department's budget.

Following Shulkin's termination Wednesday evening, many warned against characterizing the episode as a mere “staff shake-up” rather than as part of a concerted effort to privatize the VA.

“This whole business is not about David Shulkin. It's about the influence of the Koch brothers over the Trump administration and their desire …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Is Trump Trying to Go to War?

March 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Rebecca Gordon, TomDispatch

With John Bolton in one ear and Mike Pompeo in the other, it's frighteningly possible.


A barely noticed anniversary slid by on March 20th. It’s been 15 years since the United States committed the greatest war crime of the twenty-first century: the unprovoked, aggressive invasion of Iraq. The New York Times, which didn’t exactly cover itself in glory in the run-up to that invasion, recently ran an op-ed by an Iraqi novelist living in the United States entitled “Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country,” but that was about it. The Washington Post, another publication that (despite the recent portrayal of its Vietnam-era heroism in the movie The Post) repeatedly editorialized in favor of the invasion, marked the anniversary with a story about the war’s “murky” body count. Its piece concluded that at least 600,000 people died in the decade and a half of war, civil war, and chaos that followed — roughly the population of Washington, D.C.

These days, there’s a significant consensus here that the Iraq invasion was a “terrible mistake,” a “tragic error,” or even the “single worst foreign policy decision in American history.” Fewer voices are saying what it really was: a war crime. In fact, that invasion fell into the very category that led the list of crimes at the Nuremberg tribunal, where high Nazi officials were tried for their actions during World War II. During the negotiations establishing that tribunal and its rules, it was (ironically, in view of later events) the United States that insisted on including the crime of “waging a war of aggression” and on placing it at the head of the list. The U.S. position was that all the rest of Germany’s war crimes sprang from this first “crime against peace.”

Similarly, the many war crimes of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush — the extraordinary renditions; the acts of torture at Guantánamo, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and CIA black sites all over the world; …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Trump's EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Caught Living in Prime D.C. Condo Owned by Top Energy Lobbyist's Wife: Report

March 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Travis Gettys, Raw Story

The corruption never ends.


President Donald Trump’s environmental chief has been living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt occupies the home a short distance from the U.S. Capitol, but neither the agency or lobbyist J. Steven Hart would say how much the Trump administration official has been paying to live in the prime location, reported ABC News.

The cost of the rental agreement will be a key question in determining whether the property is an improper gift, according to ethics experts.

Hart confirmed to ABC News that Pruitt lived in the condo, which is owned through a limited liability company that links to an address owned by the lobbyist and his wife Vicki Hart — who is a lobbyist specializing in health care.

The Harts were described in 2010 by the newspaper Roll Call as a “lobbyist power couple.”

Steven Hart, chairman and CEO of Williams and Jensen, previously served in the Reagan Justice Department and is a top Republican fundraiser, and his firm reported more than $16 million in federal lobbying income last year.

“Among his many clients are the NRA and Cheniere Energy Inc., which reported paying Hart’s firm $80,000 a year,” ABC News reported.

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Big Week for the Russia Probe: Promises of Pardons and a Suspected Russian Spy

March 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Was John Dowd dangling pardons before Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn? And how important is Konstantin Kilimnik?


Until Wednesday it was a weirdly slow news week in this high-energy Trump era, with no more than a few desultory tweets from the president and almost no public appearances. The most obvious reason for Trump's unwillingness to address the press was that the Stormy Daniels story had dominated the news cycle and he didn't want to have to answer questions about that. Trump also got bad news this week on the emoluments lawsuit that alleges he's improperly profiting from his Washington hotel as president. Or maybe he's just come down after his manic run of the past couple of weeks.

On Tuesday, Trump's silence took on a more ominous tone, however, when senators on both sides of the aisle sent letters to various members of the Justice Department, more or less begging them not to cooperate with any move to shut down Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. For no obviously discernible reason, Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., authors of a bill introduced more than a year ago to protect Mueller, issued a joint statement urging Trump “to allow the Special Counsel to complete his work without impediment, which is in the best interest of the American people, the President, and our nation.” Later, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and the eight other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a letter to five DOJ officials asking them to commit to protecting Mueller.

Blumenthal went on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show and explained:

Meanwhile, the reasoning behind the letters to the Justice Department was spelled out in this Slate article by Blumenthal and historian Rick Perlstein, looking to the Watergate precedent.

A couple of stories have broken over the last couple of days …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Oldest Human Footprints in North America Discovered

March 30, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

One of the prints discovered, beside a digitally-enhanced image that more clearly shows toe impressions and an arch indicating that this is a right footprint. (Credit: Duncan McLaren)

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known human footprints in North America. Specifically, they’ve discovered footprints from three ice-age humans who walked the shores of a Canadian Island approximately 13,000 years ago.

Researchers believe that the 29 clay footprints, found under the sand on Calvert Island in British Columbia, belonged to two adults and one child. And the variety of footprints seems to indicate that these people were doing more than just stopping on their way to somewhere else.

One of the prints discovered, beside a digitally-enhanced image that more clearly shows toe impressions and an arch indicating that this is a right footprint. (Credit: Duncan McLaren)

“In addition to the 29 individual footprints, we found evidence of other partial footprint-like depressions, but over-trampling had rendered them only barely discernible,” researchers wrote in a paper published in March 2018 in the journal PLOS One. “For this reason, many could not be recorded in detail or with confidence and are not included in the total number of tracks discovered.”

The footprints are rare evidence of human activity in North America during the Pleistocene Epoch, which began about-two-and-a-half million years ago. Previously, researchers have uncovered artifacts with a similar date range to the footprints at Charlie Lake Cave in British Columbia, as well as the Vermillion Lakes in Alberta, Canada.


The excavation site that revealed the prints. (Credit: Joanne McSporran)

This discovery adds new information to the theory that early people in North America crossed over from Siberia via “Beringia,” a land bridge that once stretched over the Bering Strait to Alaska. In particular, it suggests that some of these travelers may have used boats to travel among islands in the Northern Pacific.

So far, no evidence of ice-age boats have been found in this region. The oldest boat ever discovered was found in the Netherlands and is only 10,000 years old, meaning it was built about three millennia after the Calvert Island dwellers left their footprints. If researchers find evidence that the people who made footprints on the island did travel there by boat, it would significantly move back our estimate of when humans first began to roam …read more

Source: HISTORY

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7-Year-Old T. Rex Found in Montana is a ‘1 in 100 Million’ Discovery

March 30, 2018 in History

By Martin Stezano

Paleontologists excavating in Montana’s famous Hell Creek Formation have uncovered the score of a lifetime—one of the most preserved and complete juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found.

Although digging up remains of a T. rex in the area is not an uncommon feat, what makes this find unique is the quality of the fossil, and the age of the dinosaur in question. According to Kyle Atkins-Weltman, an assistant fossil preparator at the Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, there have been fewer than five “decently complete juvenile T. rexes” discovered in the formation, which has produced a massive cache of dinosaur fossils since it was first excavated by famed paleontologist Barnum Brown in the late 1890s.

Just how rare was it? As Atkins-Weltman told Live Science, “This is a 1-in-100-million specimen.”

The young dinosaur, which is believed to have been 6 to 8 years old when it died, was originally discovered by Kris Super, an assistant student preparator from the Natural History Museum in June of 2016, but his team didn’t have time to unearth the entire skeleton, so they couldn’t say for certain what kind of dinosaur they’d found. The following summer, they returned and realized just how extraordinary their discovery had been.

There are still many questions that remain to be answered about this discovery. Is it really a young T. rex, which lived during the last 2 million years of the Cretaceous period, from about 67 million to 65 million years ago. Or could it be another example of the controversial—and potentially bogus—Nannotyranus (a small genus of the tyrannosaurid family first catalogued in 1946)? With a specimen this complete, perhaps the answers will soon be revealed.

VIDEO: Dinosaurs: Known as the “king of the tyrant lizards,” T-Rex was one of the largest carnivores of all time.

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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Easter During WWII Featured ‘Hitler Eggs’ With Moustaches

March 30, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

By Easter 1941, news coverage in the United States was beginning to reflect the ominous beat of war drawing closer to the country. The traditional Easter celebrations—the 5th Avenue Easter parade in New York City, visits to the blossoming cherry trees in D.C., and coverage of the Easter observations and style of the president and first lady—may have proceeded as usual, but echoes of the terror facing the world could be seen in things as minor as Easter egg decorations that year. Even in a neutral U.S., nobody would give up the chance to smash a hard-boiled Hitler!

Paramount News, the media organization responsible for this 1941 Easter report, would eventually be called on to join the national war effort. They lent their talents to the Office of War Information, which was formed in the summer of 1942 and was responsible for all international and domestic propaganda during World War II. But until then, they continued releasing their own coverage of world events, whether those in the government liked it or not.

Paramount Takes on the News Biz

In 1927, Paramount Pictures jumped into the world of journalism by creating a news division. For the three decades that it existed, Paramount News would produce biweekly newsreel dispatches like this account of Easter in 1941 that were often shown in cinemas before the regularly scheduled entertainment began.

While Paramount would come to collaborate with the government to produce domestic war propaganda and dispatches from the frontlines, not every politician was thrilled with their news coverage in the lead-up to war. In 1940, Senator Burton Wheeler from Montana accused the movie industry of campaigning for war.

According to a January 15, 1941, New York Times piece, the editor of Paramount News wrote a letter to Wheeler disputing the accusations, writing, “I stand on our record. Paramount News has consistently presented and will continue to present both sides of all controversial topics vital to the interests of the American people. May I remind you of our treatment of the Supreme Court controversy of two years ago, in which you were featured in our screen reporting? This is but one example, characteristic of our policy.”

A Basketful of Easter Traditions 

Even with war on the horizon, expert Easter egg decorators were channeling cheekiness when it came to their craft, as seen in the Hitler and United States Navy eggs featured in this news report. …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Jesse Jackson on M.L.K.: One Bullet Couldn’t Kill the Movement

March 30, 2018 in History

By Yohuru Williams

U.S. National Guard troops blocking off a street while striking Memphis sanitation workers march by, wearing placards reading, 'I Am A Man' on March 29, 1968. King was killed on the eve of a second march to support the sanitation workers. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/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.

Early in the evening on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, a single bullet felled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 39-year-old leader of America’s long-simmering civil-rights struggle. Known for his advocacy of nonviolent resistance to racial injustice, King was instrumental in rolling back national laws dictating segregation and discrimination; and in 1964, he became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

King, who had come to the city to support a sanitation workers’ strike, was under significant stress, both from aggressive government surveillance and from fellow civil-rights leaders at odds about what a national agenda should look like—and how best to pursue it. High on Dr. King’s list: spotlighting the plight of America’s poor.

One of the people with King the day he was killed was a 26-year-old rising figure in the movement named Jesse Jackson, Jr. In the last 50 years, he himself has become a national civil-rights icon, who has worked tirelessly to topple the vestiges of racism and inequality in America and across the globe. In a wide-ranging interview with HISTORY, Rev. Jackson offered his recollections on the assassination, its tumultuous aftermath throughout 1968—and how the movement struggled to push forward with King’s dream of racial and economic equality.

VIDEO: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: A look at the life of iconic civil rights leader.

HISTORY: Dr. King’s assassination came in the midst of preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign, a massive demonstration to highlight the issue of poverty in America. What were the internal arguments within his organization, the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), around this planning?

Jesse Jackson: We were trying to think strategically about how to gain traction. And so we had the staff meeting in January with whites from Appalachia and the Smoky Mountains, Native Americans from the reservations, blacks from the deep south, Latinos from south of this country, Chavez’s group, some Jewish allies from New York led by [activist] Al Lowenstein, and labor. [The discussion was] on how to begin to go city by city and come by bus, by train, by plane—[to] come to Washington and set up Resurrection City, a poor people’s camp between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

And so that …read more

Source: HISTORY