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Valley Forge: George Washington’s Most Dismal Christmas Ever

December 20, 2018 in History

By Bob Drury & Tom Clavin

With a quarter of his troops freezing, starving and barely clothed, Washington, running out of options, schemed a bold—and highly risky—Christmas Eve attack.

December 23, 1778 dawned cold and dank over the hills of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the scent of snow in the air. General George Washington, pacing the headquarters tent of his revolutionary army’s winter encampment, was dictating a testy ultimatum to the Continental Congress, laced with what he called his “infinite pain and concern.”

On his mind? British troop advancement and the dire state of his forces. As he spoke, some 12,000 troops were setting up camp around him for the winter, cobbling together 2,000 or so rude huts with foraged wood and the barest of tools. Horses and oxen were in such short supply that the men were reduced to yoking themselves to makeshift carts. Many soldiers went without coats, shoes and blankets; most ate little in the way of meat. That day in camp, there were no cattle to slaughter and fewer than 30 barrels of flour in the commissary. The upshot: Nearly 3,000 freezing, near-naked and starving troops—a quarter of Washington’s force—had been declared unfit for duty.

The six months that the Continental Army would spent at Valley Forge would be the most difficult, and ultimately, transformative of the American Revolution. That December, at a nadir in his campaign to expel the British, Washington found himself in a desperate moment, one that drove him to consider one of his boldest, and riskiest, military maneuvers yet: a Christmas Eve attack.

READ MORE: Why Martha Washington Was the Ultimate Military Spouse

‘Starve, dissolve or disperse’

Washington’s dispatch to the Congress that morning flagged a crisis situation: The British General Sir William Howe was on the move that very day, with a force of more than 8,000 Redcoats and Hessians. Having ventured out of the then-capital city of Philadelphia (which they captured three months earlier), they had crossed the Schuylkill river and, according to Continental scouts, were headed to raid nearby farmsteads for hay and livestock. But with the British force now positioned less than 20 miles south of Valley Forge, Washington worried that Gen. Howe would fill his forage wagons and then turn north to overrun his own ragtag, depleted army.

“I ordered the Troops to be in rediness [for an attack] but behold!,” Washington wrote to what was …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Trump says Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is 'retiring' — here's how we know he's quitting

December 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Many have believed Mattis has protected the country from the worst of the president's impulses.


President Donald Trump stunned observers Thursday evening when, in the midst of a tense government shutdown fight and the day after he announced an unexpected U.S. withdrawal from Syria, he said on Twitter that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be retiring at the end of February. In reality, it was clear Mattis quit.

“General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years,” Trump wrote. “During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting……equipment. General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!”

Many observers and critics of the president had long believed that Mattis was one of the key figures in the administration protecting the country from Trump's worst ideas and plans.

And despite Trump's claim that Mattis was retiring, the general's resignation letter made it clear he was leaving because of disagreements, not because he is aging out of the position.

“Because you have the right to a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote.

The decision to withdraw from Syria was believed to be against the desire of Trump's military advisers, including Mattis. And earlier on Thursday, it was reported that Trump was looking to withdraw more than 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, which is also believed to be contrary to Mattis' views.

So it was clear that Mattis had come to view himself as lacking influence in the White House, and that he would be better off quitting than sticking around. 

And as CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins observed, there wasn't “a single word of praise for Trump” in the letter Mattis sent.

<Img align="left" border="0" height="1" width="1" alt="" style="border:0;float:left;margin:0;padding:0;width:1px!important;height:1px!important" …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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This NYT columnist asks a devastating question about the Trumps: 'How can a family that can’t run a charity run a country?'

December 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

The Trump Foundation was forced to close this week.


Democrat Barbara Underwood, outgoing attorney general for New York State, announced this week that President Donald J. Trump’s charitable organization, the Trump Foundation, must “dissolve under judicial supervision” and that its “remaining charitable assets” must be distributed “to reputable organizations approved by my office.” Underwood filed a lawsuit against Trump in June, accusing the Trump Foundation of illegally using that charity to promote his presidential campaign in 2016. And in his latest article for the New York Times, liberal/progressive opinion columnist Charles M. Blow cites the downfall of the Trump Foundation as a reason why his view of the president has gone from bad to worse

In his dark-humored column, Blow notes that he has been lambasting Trump consistently for two years because of his “immorality, dishonesty, fraudulence and grift.” But Blow stresses that he is having to reevaluate Trump, writing, “It’s so much worse than I thought….I had no idea how immoral Trump actually is.”

Blow notes that Michael Cohen (Trump’s former personal attorney) has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for, among other things, campaign finance violations—and that, according to federal prosecutors, Cohen made illegal hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential election on orders from Trump. Then, Blow adds that the Trump Foundation was as corrupt as Trump’s campaign.

Blow quotes Underwood as saying that the Trump Foundation showed “a shocking pattern of illegality” when it coordinated with Trump’s 2016 campaign—and that the Foundation was “little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”  

The New York Times columnist asks, “How can a family that can’t run a charity run a country?” adding that when he called Trump a “pathological liar” in the past, he “could not have predicted” that the president would become even less truthful.

Blow concludes his column by asserting that he will continue to “worry about the republic in which we live. Trump has the capacity to damage or even destroy it. That’s not …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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'That’s what the f*ck serving in Congress has come to': Republican lawmakers grow sick and tired of Trump's demands for a border wall

December 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

“Ugh, are you ruining my life?”


On Wednesday night, Republicans in the U.S. Senate—hoping to avoid a government shutdown—passed a spending bill that would fund the federal governmentthrough February 8, 2019. But the bill did not include the $5 billion for a U.S./Mexico border wall that President Donald Trump has been demanding—and the president is refusing to sign it. To further complicate matters, most senators have already left town for the holidays.

Today on Twitter, CNN’s Manu Raju reported that when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine heard that Trump was refusing to sign a Senate bill that lacked funding for a border wall, she “almost dropped her handbag.”

“Did he just say that?” Raju quoted Collins as saying. “Ugh, are you ruining my life?”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told CNN that so many senators had left Washington, DC for the holidays that the nation’s capital resembles a “ghost town.” That means there may not even be enough senators to vote if Trump wants to force another piece of legislation through — which would be almost guaranteed to fail in any event.

Johnson expressed frustration with Trump’s unwillingness to compromise on a border wall, asserting, “I’m not sure what leverage the president thinks he has at this moment. The way you create leverage is [you] keep this issue alive and keep arguing why we need to secure the border.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Representatives have been discussing a possible spending bill of their own.

Via Twitter, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt (host of “Kasie DC”) reported, “On the House floor, leaders scrambling to see if they can pass $5 billion in wall funding as Republicans say they want President Trump to tweet before they say ‘yes.’”

Hunt added that “one GOP member of Congress” told her, “That’s what the fuck serving in Congress has come to.”

As difficult as it is for Trump to get funding for a border wall through Congress in the late 2018 lame duck session, it will become even more difficult in 2019—when Democrats, having achieved a net gain of …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the Senate passes a major sentencing reform bill

December 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Phillip Smith, Independent Media Institute

But it’s still just a first step.


In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate on Tuesday approved a major prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to pass it easily, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill added significant sentencing reform provisions to a prison reform bill passed earlier by the House.

“The First Step Act will help keep our streets safe and it offers a fresh start to those who’ve put in the work to get right with the law while paying their debt to society,” Grassley said on the Senate floor after the vote. “It also addresses unfairness in prison sentencing and revises policies that have led to overcrowded prisons and ballooning taxpayer expenses.”

“I think we showed something which most American people wouldn’t have believed—that a bipartisan group of senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day, assemble an array of support—left, right, and center—from members of the Senate as well as organizations devoted to law enforcement as well as civil rights, and at the end of it have something we all felt was a fair product to send over to the House, which I hope will act on this very quickly,” Durbin said. “It is, however, the first step. We’ve got to start thinking about the second step. And we need the help of all of our colleagues when shaping that.”

In addition to the prison reform language, the bill’s key sentencing provisions include:

  • Retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people;

  • Expansion of the “safety valve” allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences;

  • Reform of the “three …read more

    Source: ALTERNET

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Dreaming of a White (House) Christmas: 16 Photos

December 20, 2018 in History

By Madison Horne

Christmas at the first residence has evolved from an understated, intimate affair in 1800 to an all-out media event.

Although the traditions may not go as far back as the holiday itself, Christmas in the White House has been tradition since 1800. President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams were the first to throw a Christmas party in the president’s official residence, but it was not as we know it today. These were intimate gatherings with family and close officials, not decorations designed for the media spotlight.

Christmas trees in the White House would not appear until the mid-19th century when 14th president Franklin Pierce decorated a Christmas tree on the White House lawn in 1853. President Benjamin Harrison stepped up the tradition when he brought a tree inside the White House in 1889 and had it lit with candles.

President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 24, 1923. The tree came from Vermont, the president’s home state, and was decorated with about 2,500 electric lights.

View the 16 images of this gallery on the original article

Throughout the 19th century Christmas trees were often only put up if there were families around, specifically young children or grandchildren, to get into the Christmas spirit. Theodore Roosevelt, a well-known conservationist, was against the idea of cutting down a tree for the holidays, although his 8-year-old son once got a tree and had it “rigged up” inside a large closet in the White House, according to a letter that Roosevelt wrote on December 26, 1902.

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge hosted the first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. This tradition has persisted every year since, although in 1963 the ceremony was delayed several days due to a 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Jackie Kennedy began the tradition of installing themed Christmas trees in the White House’s iconic Blue Room in 1961. That year, she picked characters from the Nutcracker Suite ballet to adorn her tree. Five years later, it was established that the National Christmas Tree Association would provide Christmas trees to U.S. Presidents and their families.

In 2018, White House Christmas decor took on a red theme as Melania Trump chose to feature a series of crimson trees. While some …read more

Source: HISTORY

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'Calling me a liar are fighting words': Democratic lawmaker walks out on DHS Sec. Nielsen after denouncing her deception

December 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

The facts don't back her up.


Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared before Congress on Thursday, giving Democratic lawmakers the opportunity to voice their opposition and distress at the administration's cruel and disastrous immigration policies.

When Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has his opportunity to ask questions, he decided to give Nielsen a lecture instead. Pointing out that it was the Christmas season, Guttierez noted that it was “a time in which we celebrate Jesus Christ. A Jesus Christ who had to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph. Thank God there wasn't a wall that kept him from seeking refuge in Egypt.”

As he continued, he became more impassioned and outraged at the secretary.

“Shame on everybody who separates children and allows them to stay at the other side of the border, fearing death, fearing hunger, fearing sickness. Shame on us for wearing out badge of Christianity during Christmas and allow the secretary to come here and lie,” he said.

“Calling me a liar is fighting words,” Nielsen said. “I'm not a liar.”

But she continued to repeat a lie, insisting that the administration has never had a “family separation policy.” Instead, as she has repeatedly and condescendingly argued, she holds that the administration's policies practice of taking children away from parents was demanded by laws Congress had already passed, not anything the executive branch actively did.

This argument is at best semantic wordplay — more accurately, it's gross deception. As many have pointed out, the administration intentionally and clearly adopted a new policy in the past year of “zero tolerance” that automatically entailed separating families who were accused of crossing the border illegally. Officials, including former DHS Secretary John Kelly and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, made clear that separating families was the point — to create a deterrent effect. Nielsen claimed that the administration didn't have a policy of family separations because it didn't separate every immigrant family — but that's as absurd as claiming that a government doesn't have an education policy because not every child goes to public school.

Frustrated with her deceptive tactics, Gutierrez walked out in the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How Power Grabs in the South Erased Reforms After Reconstruction

December 20, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

The late 19th century was a period of political whiplash for the south. Black men were guaranteed the .

Governor Powell Clayton.

Arkansas Governor Powell Clayton effectively used his control over the state’s militia to suppress the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan. Between November 1868 and March 1869, Clayton declared martial law and deployed a militia of formerly enslaved men and white Union sympathizers to fight and arrest KKK members. When martial law ended, the General Assembly passed a law outlawing the Klan.

But all of these gains for black men—voting rights, representation and state protection from white vigilantes—were short lived. In 1877, the year Reconstruction officially ended, Georgia took away voters’ right to select judges and gave it back to the legislature. Southern state governments also found ways to disenfranchise black men or intimidate them from voting, thus preventing them from continuing to vote for black representatives.

“Everyone recognized what was going on, but in part at the national level the Republican party had pretty much given up on the south,” Hahn says. “The Republican party recognized that it could continue to rule the country without getting electoral votes in the south.” Black people in the south organized against this disenfranchisement, but often faced intimidation and violence.


Portrait of the first black senator, H. M. Revels of Mississippi (far left) and black representatives of Congress during the Reconstruction Era, circa 1870-1875.

By the 1890s, the now all-white state legislatures amended their constitutions to formally implement voting barriers, which they realized was the most effective way for them to maintain power. For those who have been following 21st century politics, the concept of states rewriting their laws to favor one group or party probably doesn’t seem new. Nor does the concept of voter suppression, which several American states have been accused of practicing in 2018.

“The main things that southern legislatures did in order to make sure that Republicans or African Americans didn’t get into power is to make sure they didn’t vote,” Hahn says. “All this stuff has been part of American politics all along.”

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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Here Are Warning Signs Investors Missed Before the 1929 Crash

December 20, 2018 in History

By Dave Roos

The stock market threw signals back in the summer of 1929 that trouble lay ahead.

In the spring and summer of 1918, the U.S. economy was riding high on the decade-long winning spree called the Roaring Twenties, but the Fed was raising interest rates to slow a booming market and an increasingly vocal minority of economists and bankers were beginning to wonder how long the party could possibly last.

In 1929, popular prognosticators like the Yale economist Irving Fisher swore that if a correction came, it would look like a harmless slump, while others predicted a jagged cliff. But nobody, absolutely nobody, could have foreseen the stock-market slaughter that happened in late October.

A man making his own protest against unemployment in the 1930s after the effects of the 1929 stock market crash.

On two straight days, dubbed Black Monday and Black Tuesday, the stock market crashed by 25 percent and by mid-November it had lost half its value. When the market collapse finally hit rock bottom in 1932, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had withered away by a staggering 90 percent.

Hindsight is 20/20, but there were signals back in the summer of 1929 that trouble lay ahead.

What Goes Up…

Gary Richardson, an economics professor at the University of California Irvine and a former historian for the Federal Reserve, has researched the Fed’s role in the 1929 crash and the ensuing Great Depression. He says that the first warning sign of a looming market correction was a general consensus that the blistering pace at which stock prices were rising in the late 1920s was unsustainable.

“People could see in 1928 and 1929 that if stock prices kept going up at the current rate, in a few decades they’d be astronomic,” says Richardson. The question was less about whether the meteoric stock market rise was going to end, but how it would end.

READ MORE: What Caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929?

The global financial industry is now highly sophisticated with some of the best minds and the most powerful computers dedicated to predicting future market movements. In 1929, the field of quantitative forecasting was in its infancy. Each leading economic forecaster devised his own stock market indexes in an attempt to capture market trends.


Traders working on the floor in Wall Street around the time of the crash.

Economist Roger Babson was one of …read more

Source: HISTORY

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85 'Incredibly Detailed' Dinosaur Footprints Discovered in England

December 20, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

A series of strong storms have revealed more than 85 dinosaur footprints in the county of East Sussex, England. At least seven different species left these tracks over 100 million years ago, making them the most diverse and detailed collection from the Cretaceous Period ever found in the United Kingdom.

Researchers with the University of Cambridge uncovered the footprints between 2014 and 2018 after storm surges caused coastal erosion of sandstone and mudstone cliffs near the town of Hastings. This erosion revealed the tracks, which include footprints from an unknown species of stegosaur. The researchers have published their findings on the tracks in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

In addition to being really cool, these fossils can help tell us about how dinosaurs lived and interacted with their environment.

A series of strong storms have revealed more than 85 dinosaur footprints in the county of East Sussex, England. At least seven different species left these tracks over 100 million years ago, making them the most diverse and detailed collection from the Cretaceous Period ever found in the United Kingdom.

View the 9 images of this gallery on the original article

“A collection of footprints like this helps you fill in some of the gaps and infer things about which dinosaurs were living in the same place at the same time,” said Anthony Shillito, a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and co-author of the research, according to the university’s website.

Part of Shillito’s research involves how dinosaurs may have affected the flow of rivers. “We also found evidence of footprints along the banks of river channels, so it’s possible that dinosaurs played a role in creating those channels,” he said.

But what’s probably most exciting to non-paleontologists is the striking level of detail in these footprints.

“As well as the large abundance and diversity of these prints, we also see absolutely incredible detail,” Shillito said. “You can clearly see the texture of the skin and scales, as well as four-toed claw marks, which are extremely rare.”

The area around Hastings is also where paleontologists discovered the first confirmed piece of fossilized dinosaur brain tissue in 2016. Environment is a key factor in preserving fossils like this, but so is human interaction. This year, Utah’s Red Fleet State Park struggled to prevent tourists from throwing preserved dinosaur footprints into a lake.

In the case of the Hastings footprints, no one is probably going to hurl …read more

Source: HISTORY