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House Republicans Have a Dark Plan to Pack the Federal Courts and Entrench Right-Wing Control

September 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

The GOP-Controlled House Judiciary Committee wants to expand the federal courts and limit their ability to overrule Trump's authority.

Thanks to President Donald Trump's nomination of far-right D.C. appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the president's prodigious rate of equally far-right nominations to lower courts, Republicans are on the cusp of extending their control of the federal court system for another couple of decades.

But even that is not enough for the GOP. According to Roll Call legal reporter Todd Ruger, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to introduce a series of bills on Thursday that would both dramatically expand the number of judges Trump could appoint, and reduce the authority of existing judges to block his executive actions.

The first bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), would add 52 new district court judges, which is more than double the number of district court judges nominated by Trump to be confirmed in the last two years.

The second bill would add five new judges to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and split the court into four divisions — a blatant attempt to let Trump add right-wing cronies to a liberal, California-based court that has stymied Trump on a number of issues. This includes forcing him to rewrite the Muslim ban and to continue processing DACA permits for young immigrants.

There is nothing inherently wrong with adding more judges to federal courts — in fact, the Judiciary Conference asked Congress for these exact increases. But the only reason there is such a need for new judges is because the GOP repeatedly refused to grant the Judiciary Conference's requests for more judgeships during President Barack Obama's tenure. In fact, according to former White House Deputy Counsel Chris Kang, Obama's presidency was the first to not have Congress increase the number of federal judgeships since the Gerald Ford administration. As with the Merrick Garland nomination, Republicans strategically stalled so a GOP president could have all the seats.

But the crown jewel of House Republicans' scheme is the third bill. …read more


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Here's How the Consitution Actually Defines 'Treason'

September 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Robert Sedler, The Conversation

President Trump tweeted “TREASON?” in an apparent reference to an op-ed’s author.

In the furor over the anonymous New York Times op-ed by a Trump administration “senior official,” the word “treason” has been used by a variety of people.

President Trump tweeted “TREASON?” in an apparent reference to the op-ed’s author. Trump’s supporters have likewise used the word in attacks on the author – and the newspaper for printing it.

Trump’s opponents have likewise bandied the word about by saying that the op-ed was not “treasonous.” Instead, they say that Trump himself is guilty of “treason” by trying to obstruct the investigation into the claimed Russian interference in the 2016 election. Earlier this year, Trump opponents also claimed he committed treason at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As a constitutional scholar, I’d like to remind people there is a precise definition of “treason” set forth in the Constitution. None of the recent charges of treason remotely fit that definition. The claims that one side or the other have committed treason are ignorant of the law.

Nothing Worse

Treason is the only crime specifically defined in the Constitution. It is a heinous crime, the worst crime that can be committed by an American citizen. It is a betrayal of the nation and of values embodied in the American constitutional system.

It can be punished by death.

When the framers defined “treason” in Article III, Section 3, they were determined to avoid the use of “treason” as it had been used in English law to punish opponents of the king.

In English law, “treason” meant acts of disloyalty to the king. A person convicted of “treason” was not only executed, but all of his property was “attained” – or confiscated by the government.

This was not the way the crime of treason would operate in the United States, which was founded by those who had rebelled against the British king. The framers of the constitution made sure of that.

Here’s how the framers defined treason:

“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or …read more


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Here Are 5 Senators to Keep a Close Eye on When Brett Kavanaugh Comes Up for a Vote

September 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

Kavanaugh has the potential to swing the balance of the Supreme Court.

After three days of aggressive questioning from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and other Senate Democrats, Judge Brett Kavanaugh might come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate as soon as this Thursday, September 13—and votes to either confirm or reject Kavanaugh’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court will no doubt come down along largely partisan lines. Most or all Republicans in the Senate will vote to confirm him; most or all Democrats will reject him.

And Kavanaugh, given the slight majority Republicans presently hold in the Senate, will most likely be confirmed. However, Kavanaugh’s opponents are still hoping that a handful of swing votes—namely, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski on the Republican side, along with some Blue Dog Democrats—will sink the nomination just as the American Health Care Act (one of the GOP bills for overturning the Affordable Care Act) was sunk in 2017.

Here are five U.S. senators who could either make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination.

1. Susan Collins

Susan Collins is one of the senators who far-right wingnuts and Tea Party extremists like to call a RINO: Republican In Name Only. Although the Maine Senator has a very conservative voting record, she occasionally breaks ranks with her party—for example, Collins voted again impeaching Bill Clinton during his Senate trial in early 1999 and helped sink the American Health Care Act last year. But Collins voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee. And in Maine, two groups opposed to Kavanaugh’s confirmation (the Maine People’s Alliance and Mainers for Accountable Leadership) have teamed up with Ady Barkan to warn Collins that if she votes for Kavanaugh, they will crowdfund her Democratic opponent (whoever that might turn out to be) when she seeks reelection in 2020. And they mean business: so far, they have raised more than $1 million, all of it earmarked for Collins’ future opponent should she vote for Kavanaugh.

2. Lisa Murkowski

Like Collins, Murkowski voted against the American Health Care Act but voted to confirm Gorsuch—and like Collins, Murkowski is …read more


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CNN Panel Slams Trump's 'Warped Approach' to Being President After He Repulsively Claims Puerto Rico Was an 'Unsung Success'

September 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Nearly 3,000 people were reportedly killed when Hurricane Marie hit the island — and Trump thinks that's a success.

Hurricane Florence loomed over the East Coast Tuesday, threatening to bring devastation to the states in its path and reviving the memories of last year's devastating storm season. President Donald Trump, speaking about the current threat, erroneously praised his administration's efforts to respond to 2017's Hurricane Maria, which tore through Puerto Rico and killed nearly 3,000 Americans, according to a recent report.

Trump said his administration's response to Maria was an “an incredible, unsung success,” despite the fact that the death toll had skyrocketed since he had initially visited the island territory in the storm's aftermath. Then, he had touted that the death toll was only 16, much lower than the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina's impact in New Orleans in 2005. Now we know that the Maria was much more deadly than Katrina.

On CNN Tuesday, panelists discussed the president's callous remarks.

“It's far from a success, and the fact that Donal Trump today would spend so much time singing his own praises, rather than really leaning into a conversation with people in leadership there to figure out how they can really overcome and really have a success story for this storm, I think, is really telling,” said commentator Angela Rye.

“Do you think, Amanda, that President Trump doesn't have the people around him who tell him, 'Hey, by the way, don't say that about Puerto Rico — it's not a success, and they just upgraded the death toll to 2,975. That's not a success, that's embarrassing'?”

“Perhaps, but I also think there's probably people in the White House that have given up on trying to message the president,” said author Amanda Carpenter. “I mean, look at his performance when he actually went to Puerto Rico. He's throwing out paper towels like he's Santa Claus giving out goodies. And I think this is part of the warped approach that he has toward disasters. He views it as an opportunity to hand out money and goodies for which people should be grateful to him. And he doesn't understand the …read more


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Trump Officials' Half-Hearted Pushback Against New Woodward Book Is Actually Devastating for the President

September 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

The new books has clearly rattled the White House.

As the White House scrambles to respond to the new book, Fear, by reporter Bob Woodward detailing the inner workings of President Donald Trump's chaotic and incompetent administration, some of the president's aides and advisers have come out to challenge the veracity of the reporting.

But the apparent denials by two of the president's former aides, Gary Cohn and Rob Porter, are actually more damning of the president than they are exculpatory.

For example, Porter's statement about the book calls it “selective” and “often misleading.” This apparent denial actually bolsters the credibility of all the passages regarding Porter, because he does not declare that the book is actually “false” in its claims about him. Any book is going to be “selective,” and whether the book is “misleading” is certainly debatable, though someone who worked inside the White House is hardly an objective observer.

Porter, it should be noted, was forced to leave the White House as Trump's staff secretary, after credible allegations emerged that he had abused his ex-wives.

Cohn, who served as Trump's economic adviser before leaving over disagreements about trade policy, issued a similarly weak rebuttal to the book. While he said the book contained “inaccuracies,” as Axios reports, he wasn't specific about what the book supposedly got wrong.

“Cohn cited no specific objections to Woodward's extensive reporting of his private views that Trump needed to be saved from his most dangerous impulses,” Axios reports. “We're told the book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews, most of which were taped with the consent of the source.”

Axios also notes that its own reporting lends credibility to Woodward's account. Woodward himself issued a statement saying he stands by his reporting.

Both Cohn and Porter were involved in one of the incidents recounted in the book that has garnered the most attention. Cohn and Porter reportedly worked “steal” a letter from Trump's desk that would have pulled the U.S. out of its trade deal with South Korea and prevent further copies of the order from reaching him. While Porter contests the use …read more


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Americans Celebrated for Two Days After the End of WWII: Watch Now

September 11, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

Flashback: America Celebrates the End of WWII (TV-PG; 4:44)

As the summer rolled into August in 1945, the Pacific theater of World War II was still trudging along with slow but deadly steam. Germany had surrendered several months earlier, and the Allies were ready for the devastating conflict to come to an end. But despite the rest of the world turning towards peace, the Japanese forces continued to fight on with no signs of capitulation.

In order to speed the conclusion along, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan—one on Hiroshima on August 6 and another on Nagasaki three days later. It was the first and only time that nuclear weapons had been used in warfare, and the results were devastating. Over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the attacks and the fallout lasted for years. However, the bombing had its intended effect. On August 14, Japan officially surrendered and World War II came to an end.

But that mid-August day when the big announcement was made isn’t the only “Victory Over Japan,” or V-J, Day. The end of World War II is technically celebrated twice. On September 2, representatives from Japan and the United States gathered on the deck of the USS Missouri, which was docked in Tokyo Bay for the formal signing of the papers that would bring the war to an end. “This is a victory of more than arms alone. This is a victory of liberty over tyranny,” President Truman said in his September 2 speech officially proclaiming V-J Day.

Let the Celebrations Begin!

As this video report shows, crowds gathered across the country on August 14, waiting for word that Japan had unconditionally surrendered to end the war. At 7p.m., President Truman gathered advisors and reporters in the White House and “calmly” read a statement declaring the end of the hostilities. When he was done, “his face broke into a smile.”

Crowds in Washington, D.C., gathered to congratulate Truman and parade around town, as they did in most cities throughout the country. But the biggest celebration of all was in New York City. Music and dancing broke out in the streets of Little Italy, “confetti” made of scraps of cloth rained down in the Garment District and in Times Square, two million people packed into 10 blocks to express their jubilation.

“Five …read more


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After WWII, Fears of Liberated Teen Girls Led to 'Grooming' Films

September 11, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

Flashback: Extreme Beauty Standards of the 1940s (TV-PG; 2:22)

When it comes to the beauty standards women in the 1940s were held to, there is only response: “Oh, brother.”

This clip from a mental hygiene film—the line of educational videos made in the 20th century to teach America’s youngsters how to act—was created in 1948 and titled “Body Care and Grooming”. In the years after the end of World War II, young people in the U.S. were solidifying into a brand new social group, that of the teenager. With the rise of car culture, greater freedom for teens, and a society that was bending towards the conservative gender structures of the Leave It to Beaver 1950s, parents were clearly becoming worried about making sure their kids behaved in a prim and proper fashion.

So, adults did what was only natural. The Committee on Medical Motion Pictures and the American College of Surgeons were called in to help produce this midcentury gem to teach their sons and daughters all about personal hygiene and cleanliness standards. This, of course, included defining the rules for how women should dress and the beauty standards they should conform to in order to catch the eye—and calm the frazzled school nerves—of the gents. Like we said, “Oh, brother.”

Beware the Bobby-Socks Brigade

By today’s sartorial standards, the transformed star of this video is positively conservative in her dress. She is praised—after she pulls herself together—for her perfectly pressed knee skirt, the tucked-in shirt that shows off her slender waist and her tidy little bobby socks. This last element may have been the proverbial bow on the proper coed’s outfit, but in the early 1940s, it had an entirely different connotation. There was something of a bobby-sock scare afoot.

As WWII dragged on, the U.S. morality watchdogs became concerned about a new problem at home: victory girls. These were young girls, who were often characterized as teenagers but who also included young married women, who used their new-found freedom as their parents went to work and to war to roam the streets and pick-up servicemen. They acted sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of a sense of patriotic duty and sometimes to exercise their new freedom. For this behavior, these young women were labeled “khaki wackies, cuddle bunnies, round-heels, patriotutes, chippies, good-time Janes, [and] Victory girls.”

As if fighting this moral crisis wasn’t …read more


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How U.S. Intelligence Misjudged the Growing Threat Behind 9/11

September 11, 2018 in History

By Barbara Maranzani

Among the missteps: lack of intel-sharing between agencies, tepid responses to earlier attacks and a failure to grasp the magnitude of the terrorists’ ambitions.

Smoke rises from the site of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

For most Americans (and those around the world), the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 came as a shock. But for American and international investigators, warning signs of the attack had been brewing for more than a decade. Below, several key seeds that bore fruit on 9/11:

The Soviet-Afghan war laid the table for later conflicts.

In the 1980s, future al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others joined in Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union, an experience that helped radicalize them in the decade that followed.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, they were fiercely resisted by Afghan fighters known as mujahideen, who declared a holy war, or “jihad,” against the Soviets, whom they considered infidels. The mujahideen quickly gained support from other parts of the Islamic world, with thousands flocking to Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight in or support the Afghan resistance. Among those supporters: bin Laden and other future leaders of extremist groups. The logistical and tactical lessons—and the relationships formed amongst these Muslim resistance leaders—had lasting consequences.

In the early 1990s, a fundamentalist Islamic group known as the Taliban, comprised primarily of former mujahideen, rose to power in post-war Afghanistan. They took over the country in 1996, establishing a harsh, repressive regime that provided support and protection for bin Laden, who returned to the country with other extremists and soon founded al-Qaeda.

A post-WWI treaty pissed off bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda was created, in part, to globalize the fight between fundamentalist Islam and the Western world. To that end, its leaders leveraged new communications technologies of the ’90s—satellite cable stations and the world wide web—to spread their jihadist messages to the wider Muslim world and attract converts to their cause.

Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups also looked to avenge what they considered decades of mistreatment of Arab nations at the hands of the West. Bin Laden and others specifically made reference to the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916, a secret negotiation during World War I that carved up the Ottoman Empire and created new Arab states in the Middle East. Its intention: to deny these states self-rule and keep them under British …read more


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Another Year of the War in Afghanistan

September 11, 2018 in Economics

By A. Trevor Thrall, Erik Goepner

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

In August 2017, President Donald Trump rubberstamped his
predecessors’ failed policies when he announced America’s
recommitment to the mission in Afghanistan. In his speech, Trump
made the same promises of victory and signed on to the same set of
goals outlined many times by President George W. Bush and President
Barack Obama:

Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win.
From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our
enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the
Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror
attacks against America before they emerge.

Trump’s plan for victory in Afghanistan was dead on arrival.
Based on the same faulty premises about the threat of terrorism and
the benefits of military action, Trump’s Afghanistan campaign has
done little to make Americans safer.

None of this is news. By the time Trump made his announcement
last year, the fundamental indicators of failure in Afghanistan had
been easy to see for quite some time. Why has the United States
embraced the same feckless strategy over 17 years and three

The answer is simple: Washington’s continued embrace of a host
of strategic myths.

As we remember the
victims of 9/11 and honor the millions who have served in the war
that followed, it is past time for the United States to find its
way out of Afghanistan.

The safe haven fallacy has promoted unwarranted concern over the
threat of future terrorism. When Trump asked why the United States
needed to stay in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense James Mattis
responded, “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.” And
indeed, many argue that the failure of terrorists to launch a
second 9/11-style attack proves the value of continued American
efforts in Afghanistan and military action elsewhere. In his August
2017 speech, Trump made it clear that this argument was central to
his decision to extend the American commitment to Afghanistan,

The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and
unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was
planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was
ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.
A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including
ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before
September 11th.

Despite its popularity in Washington, the safe haven argument is
overblown. The most important base of operations for the 9/11
terrorists was not Afghanistan, but the United States. As the 9/11
commission report describes, all of the hijackers entered the
United States legally, where they received their technical (pilot)
training, not …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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It May Take Another Crash to Learn the Lessons of the 2008 Crisis

September 11, 2018 in Economics

By Diego Zuluaga

Diego Zuluaga

It is a decade since the financial crisis, and no one is happy.
Progressives like Elizabeth Warren and John McDonnell think the
guilty bankers went unpunished. Free-marketeers despair over the
absence of meaningful reforms to discourage risk-taking on the
taxpayer’s dime. Ordinary people across much of the West have only
seen tepid growth since 2008. In response, they are turning to
political extremes that promise protection from competition and

It might have been different. People of good will may disagree
on how free financial markets should be, but among those who have
studied the crash, there is broad consensus that three key factors
led Western economies astray in late 2008.

First, bank regulation was too complex, which encouraged gaming
the system, complicated supervision, and raised barriers to
competition. Second, government programmes to extend credit to
disadvantaged groups were poorly conceived and ended up hurting the people they were meant to help.
Third, governments lacked the wherewithal to stand by their
commitment not to bail out financial institutions once the crisis

So long as governments
believe that they can allocate credit more productively than the
market, people will borrow beyond their means and eventually

An adequate regulatory response to these failings would have
simplified the regulation of banks, eliminated interest and deposit
subsidies on mortgages and other forms of credit, and credibly
affirmed that taxpayer funds were not for the banks to take during
bad times.

Unfortunately, that is not the response we got. Not long after
the crash, the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane bemoaned the relentless growth in the number of
regulators per financial services worker. But it has carried on
unabated. In the United States, the Dodd-Frank Act introduced an
estimated 27,000 new regulatory restrictions. Europe has
not been far behind, with a slew of EU-wide new bodies to monitor
financial institutions. The Eurozone too has birthed its own
additional alphabet soup of regulators.

A simpler regulatory structure this one is not, even though
complexity can cloud rather than illuminate regulators’ judgement.
For example, research shows that detailed risk-based capital
requirements are not sound predictors of bank failure. By
contrast, simple leverage ratios did a good job of forecasting
which banks would fail in the crash.

The US mortgage market, where the banking system’s troubles
originated, is little-changed from ten years ago. It is true
that lending rules are tighter, which banks report have made it more difficult to
extend credit, even to perfectly good borrowers. But the central
role of the government in buying and packaging mortgages, and the
concomitant public guarantee, are undiminished.

Worse, …read more

Source: OP-EDS