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Red State Victory for Voting Rights: Federal Court Blocks a Massive Potential Voter Suppression Tactic

September 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, Independent Media Institute

Missouri’s state motor vehicle agency was stonewalling, which is still happening in Arizona.

Voting rights advocates won a major victory in Missouri late on Friday, when a federal district court ordered the state’s Driver License Bureau to promptly forward address change information for an estimated 200,000 people who recently moved to election officials to update voter rolls before the midterm election.

This technical snafu—where one state agency has not been sharing its latest information with another; in this case, the driver bureau not sharing the latest address information with statewide election officials—is not simply bureaucratic bungling.

It is willfully turning what should be a simple matter—transferring data—into a potential voter suppression tactic. That’s because it could complicate the process for hundreds of thousands of people in states with close races, starting with U.S. Senate contests.

Slightly different variations of this problem have surfaced in Missouri and Arizona.

In Arizona, civil rights groups have been frustrated by its state Motor Vehicle Division refusal to forwarded address changes for an estimated 384,000 people to election offices. That number comes from people who did not check a box on a form agreeing to forward the change of address information, a Secretary of State spokesman said Friday, adding officials were going to fix that problem after the November 2018 election.

Unlike Missouri, voting rights activists in Arizona did not win a court order after suing. As a result, the affected individuals could face a more arduous task of casting a ballot that would be counted—as their voter information on file will not be accurate—unless they take proactive steps between now and the state’s close of voter registration. But, of course, these individuals are probably not aware there’s even a potential problem.

At issue in Missouri, where Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill faces a tough re-election bid, is whether or not a sizeable number of the estimated 580,000 voters who move within the state every year will have their voting credentials updated as part of getting news driver’s licenses. A 1993 federal law, the National Voter Registration Act, called the motor voter …read more


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GOP Senate Candidate Dismisses Kavanaugh Allegation and Implies that Attempted Rape Isn't a Crime

September 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

Rep. Kevin Cramer seemed to argue that even if the allegations against Kavanaugh are true, it is no big deal because his assault didn't actually succeed.

On Friday, amid the unfolding disaster that is Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's sexual assault accusation by California professor Christine Blasey Ford, one GOP Senate candidate decided to weigh in decisively against the accuser.

According to a report from CNN's Andrew Kaczynski, Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is challenging Democratic North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, remarked on a conservative talk radio show that Dr. Ford's allegations are “even more absurd” than Anita Hill's 1991 allegations against Clarence Thomas — in part, Cramer argued, because she is not even alleging that Kavanaugh actually succeeded in violating her:

“If to the degree there was any legitimacy to Anita Hill's claims, and she tried and didn't prevail — Clarence Thomas did and America did — this case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed alleged incident took place,” Cramer said on the Jarrod Thomas Show on 1310 KNOX, a local North Dakota radio station. “Teenagers. Not a boss-supervisor-subordinate situation, as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be. These are teenagers who evidently were drunk, according to her own statement. They were drunk. Nothing evidently happened in it all, even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”

Every aspect of …read more


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GOP Legislator Suspends Campaign After Accusation of Sexual Abuse by His Daughter

September 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

Minnesota state Rep. Jim Knoblach allegedly molested his daughter Laura for 12 years, starting when she was 9.

On Friday, Minnesota Public Radio reported that GOP state Rep. Jim Knoblach abruptly suspended his campaign following allegations from his daughter, Laura Knoblach, that he had molested her for 12 years, starting at age 9.

The younger Knoblach, a prominent triathlete who is estranged from her family, recounted that her father “came into her room after she'd gone to bed and climbed in and laid down behind her.”

“He would put his arm around me and not let me get up or get away and he would lick my neck or bite my ear,” she said in an interview with MPR News.

These visits to her room, or similar kissing across her arms and neck and biting her ears while they watched movies on the couch, happened so often throughout her childhood and teenage years it became a defining part of her relationship with her father, she said.

There were other routine behaviors, she said, including more than 30 instances where her father approached her from behind and pressed his body against hers in the kitchen of their home, pinning her against the refrigerator or dishwasher and using his weight and strength to keep her from getting away.

The behavior, she alleges, continued until she was 21, at which point she left her family and moved to Boulder, Colorado. In 2017, the St. Cloud Police Department and the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office interviewed her and investigated the case, but could not find enough evidence that the behavior was illegal.

Knoblach, an eight-term lawmaker who chairs the Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee, has called the allegations “false” and “indescribably hurtful,” and his attorney, Susan Gaertner, suggested his daughter fabricated them for political reasons. However, Gaertner added, her client was suspending his campaign because he “does not want to drag his family through six weeks of hell.”

The seat Knoblach represents, House District 14B, is in the St. Cloud area. According to Daily Kos Elections editor James Lambert, the seat swung from voting 53-44 for Barack …read more


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Best Back-to-School Essentials for History Students of All Ages

September 21, 2018 in History

By Heather Corcoran

Because knowing the past always has a way of being useful.

We the People, Gone Graphic

Need a refresher on civics class? Finding traditional explanations of our country’s founding documents a little…dry? . This encyclopedic book by author and historian Jeffrey C. Stewart celebrates African-American leaders and innovation through the lens of six key topics: great migrations; civil rights and politics; science; inventions and medicine; sports; military; culture and religion. About $15, Amazon.

In Praise of Fierce Women

Forget tired dorm-room decor—give your walls an inspirational upgrade with a collection of mini-posters from Rad Women Worldwide. Featuring 20 impressive and influential women—from Egyptian queen Hatshepsut to tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai—these frameable 7-by-11-inch posters give perfect context to the pink wave. To kick the inspiration up a notch, check out Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women, the newest book from author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl, the duo behind the “Rad” history series. Posters about $9, Amazon.

Fossil Finder

The Mega Fossil Dig Kit gives aspiring archaeologists a fun way to discover history buried just beneath the earth’s surface. Using paleontologist tools, future explorers can carefully chisel and brush their way into the kit’s large dig brick to “discover” up to 15 authentic fossils—shark teeth, ammonites, brachiopods and more. The dig-along guidebook provides instructions for finding the fossils, plus a wealth of information on each. Indiana Jones hat not included. About $20, Amazon.

Setting the Record Straight

If a good education teaches us nothing else, it’s the importance of critical thinking. That’s the mission behind Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong—the U.S.-history themed follow-up to 1995’s bestselling “counter-textbook” Lies My Teacher Told Me. It spotlights often-overlooked histories behind important American episodes from pre-Columbian history through 9/11. About $15, Amazon.

Get on the Map!

It’s said that travel is life’s best teacher, so what better way to celebrate seeing the world—and learning about histories and cultures other than our own—than by tracking journeys on a Scratch-off Map? Featuring mini-stickers, national flags and easy-to-read borders, this handsome keepsake will make any student of the world excited to get out there and put some new stamps on their passport. About $29, Amazon.

Facts in Hand

Gamify your history lessons with Brain …read more


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Long-Lost Letter Reveals How Galileo Tried to Trick the Inquisition

September 21, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Galileo had evidence suggesting that Earth orbits the sun (not the other way around), but he also knew it was a dangerous theory.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) explaining his theories on the solar system.

A long-lost letter written by Galileo Galilei reveals an effort by the 17th-century astronomer to soften his public stance against the Catholic Church’s doctrine that the sun orbits the Earth. The letter, uncovered at the Royal Society in London, appears to solve a four-century-old mystery over Galileo’s original language on the celestial matter.

In the letter, written in 1613, the famed astronomer-philosopher-physicist-mathematician argued for the first time against the concept that the sun orbited the Earth (and not the other way around). When a copy of the letter was later forwarded to the Inquisition in Rome, Galileo claimed the language had been altered to make it more heretical, and produced a toned-down version he claimed was the original. In fact, as this new discovery shows, it was Galileo who had done some altering.

The newly rediscovered document, which had been misdated in the Royal Society library’s catalog, shows that Galileo himself had made changes to his original text, in an effort to protect himself from the Inquisition’s wrath.

The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus had argued in his 1543 book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres that the sun lay at the center of the universe, while Earth was a planet orbiting it. Though Copernicus himself did not live to see the impact of his revolutionary heliocentric theory, the mathematician Giordano Bruno was convicted of heresy in 1600 for his support of Copernicus’ theory, and burned at the stake.

Through his telescopic experiments, Galileo found evidence that supported the Copernican model. On December 21, 1613, he wrote to his friend Benedetto Castelli, a mathematician at the University of Pisa in Italy, about his findings. He argued that passages in the Bible mentioning astronomical events could not be taken literally, and that the Copernican theory was not necessarily incompatible with the Bible.

Due to the controversial nature of the letter, copies were circulated, and one was sent to the Inquisition in Rome in 1615. Shortly after that, Galileo wrote to a cleric friend claiming that the letter forwarded to the Inquisition had been altered to amplify the heresy of Galileo’s claims. He enclosed what he said was the original, and asked his …read more


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'The Right Has Descended Into Madness': Conservative Writer Destroys Latest Kavanaugh Defense that Shows the GOP Is Off the Deep End

September 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“There are a lot of people who will believe his conspiracy theory, despite the recantation, because they are predisposed to believe it.”

On Thursday night, a highly regarded conservative lawyer — and friend of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — spun an unhinged defense of the judge against the accusations of sexual assault that have thrown his nomination into doubt.

Ed Whelan, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, posted a widely panned tweet storm on Twitter using the thinnest possible evidence to try and claim it's more likely Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh's accuser, was attacked by another friend of theirs in high school who supposedly looked like Kavanaugh. Whelan presented no solid evidence for this and faced major blowback for insinuating that someone might be guilty of sexual assault with so little basis.

Conservative writer Max Boot, who has previously been favorable to Kavanaugh's nomination, viewed this defense/meltdown as a devastating sign for the conservative movement.

“It tells you how far the right has descended into madness that this vile accusation did not come from an anonymous blogger on some online bulletin board or from professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones,” he wrote in a new Washington Post column. “It came from someone with sterling establishment credentials: Whelan is a Harvard Law School graduate who has served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, and a deputy assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.”

Boot also came to Ford's defense, dismissing other smears against her that imply she somehow made up the story about Kavanaugh:

Why would Ford “set up” Kavanaugh when the cost of doing so is to have her name dragged through the mud and forced to flee her own home to avoid death threats? If she is setting up Kavanaugh, why would she take (and pass) a polygraph test and insist on an FBI investigation, knowing that lying to the FBI is a federal crime? If she was setting up Kavanaugh, why would she place his friend Mark Judge in the room, knowing that his testimony could contradict …read more


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7 Contentious Trade Wars in U.S. History

September 21, 2018 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

From the Boston Tea Party to the banana wars of the 1990s, U.S. trade battles have yielded mixed results for Americans.

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, Canadian lumber and on Chinese goods are just the latest in America’s long history of trade war tactics. And while some efforts have led to revolutions (Boston Tea Party), others have failed miserably (Smoot-Hawley Act). Here’s a look at seven U.S. trade wars that made an impact—for better or for worse—on our country.

1. The Boston Tea Party

Major players: American colonists, British Parliament

Boston Tea Party (TV-14; 1:51)

Tools of the trade (war): Tea

“Taxation without representation.” That was the rallying cry December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, when colonists waged a political protest over taxes levied by Great Britain, including the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 that taxed everything from newspapers and playing cards to paint, glass and, yes, tea. Following the 1770 Boston Massacre, Britain repealed all but the tea tax, leading to a colonial boycott of the British East India Company and tea smuggling. The night of the infamous tea party, organized by the Sons of Liberty (which counted John Hancock, John Adams and Paul Revere among its members), a reported 116 men tossed 342 chests of tea—92,000 pounds of the stuff valued at around $1 million by today’s standards—overboard.

Consequences: The British Parliament and King George III enacted the Coercive Acts, which among other orders, closed Boston Harbor until the tea was paid for, stopped free elections in Massachusetts and required colonists to house British troops on demand. In response, the other colonies sent supplies and were spurred to declare the right of the colonies to govern independently. The Revolutionary War began soon after, on April 19, 1775.

2. The Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930

Major players: United States, Canada, Europe and other nations

A political cartoon of President Herbert Hoover explaining his farm relief program to a farmer.

Tools of the trade (war): Thousands of imported goods

President Herbert Hoover originally set out to deal with a farm crisis during the early years of the Great Depression, proposing tariffs on agricultural imports. But Senators Reed Smoot and Willis C. Hawley offered their own legislation, and added a slew of industrial tariffs. This was despite a petition signed by 1,000 U.S. economists calling, unsuccessfully, for Hoover to veto the plan. The world responded with tariffs on U.S. …read more


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How Robert Bork's Failed Nomination Led to a Changed Supreme Court

September 21, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

President Reagan took three tries to get a Supreme Court nomination approved—and the outcome would have far-reaching consequences for the Court and the country.

Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork, testifies on the fourth day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in Washington D C. Bork was rejected by the Senate.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan got the chance to appoint the third Supreme Court justice of his presidency. But while the first two justices had sailed through the confirmation process, the third appointment turn out to be much, much more difficult. The outcome would have far-reaching consequences for the Court and the country.

After Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a long-time “swing” vote on the Court, announced his retirement, President Reagan nominated Robert Bork, a federal appeals court judge. Bork had been serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the nation’s second-highest court, for five years at that time.

A die-hard fan of constitutional “originalism,” Bork rejected what he saw as the Court’s liberal judicial activism, including key precedents like the “one person, one vote” principle of legislative representation, civil rights legislation and cases involving privacy rights. In Bork’s view, the U.S. Constitution included no right to privacy.

Bork’s controversial opinions and writings, and the fear that he would decisively shift the Supreme Court to the right, motivated liberals in Congress to launch an aggressive campaign against his confirmation, led by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

“Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy declared on the Senate floor, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, [and] schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution…”

Democrats controlled Congress at the time, and the Senate ended up voting against Bork’s confirmation by a vote of 58-42, the biggest margin of any failed Supreme Court nominee in history. Bork’s confirmation fight, and its result, even spawned a new verb. In the years that followed, politicians on both left and right would adopt the practice of “borking” judicial nominees—vigorously questioning their legal philosophy and political views in an effort to derail their confirmation.

President Reagan (R) holding press conference to introduce his Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg.

After Bork, Reagan nominated a more moderate conservative, Douglas H. Ginsburg. …read more


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Why Are There So Many Urban Legends About Mr. Rogers?

September 21, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

If popular folklore is to be believed, he’s a tattooed former sniper with a dark secret.

You may have read it on the internet or heard it from a friend: Before Fred McFeely Rogers became a beloved TV legend, he was a sniper in the Vietnam War. Then he took to the airwaves, adopting his signature sweater to cover his full-sleeve tattoos, using his platform to abuse children and flipping off television cameras along the way.

Everything in that paragraph is untrue—so why do these stories keep being repeated? The persistence of these stories, and their stark contrast from the truth, tells us a lot about urban legends and how they spread. In fact, folklorists, who study how people express themselves in everyday life, say that the stories we tell about public figures can actually tell us a lot about ourselves.

Celebrated in the latest Google Doodle, Mr. Rogers’ real biography reads like a squeaky-clean fable: A Pittsburgh native, he entered a seminary but left to pursue a career in children’s television. A deft puppeteer and storyteller, Rogers had a deep love of—and respect for—children that made him a uniquely qualified kids’ entertainer. “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” his iconic TV show that debuted 50 years ago this month, ran for 33 years on public television and is still shown in reruns. Rogers’ soft-spoken persona, his inventive puppets and the familiar residents of his “neighborhood” turned the show into a much-loved kids’ classic filled with gentle lessons and quiet entertainment. The cherished star made a famously emotional plea for public television before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969, and was a devoted Presbyterian minister who neither smoked nor drank. An award-winning documentary about Rogers released in 2018 was one of the most successful specialty box office releases of the summer.

Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

He’s also the subject of a string of tall tales. Supposedly, he flipped off a television camera in an uncharacteristic show of aggression, captured in a GIF that’s reached meme status. (In truth, he was raising his fingers during an innocent on-air game of “Where is Thumbkin.”) Other myths have it that he fought in Vietnam or was a particularly violent Navy SEAL. (He did neither, though he did receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush for his work in television.) Some even …read more