Let’s Hear It For The Toys
April 1, 2022
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“Americans of our own time – minority and majority Americans alike – need the continued guidance that the Voting Rights Act provides. We have come a long way, but more needs to be done.” – Elijah Cummings
Wiscons-In Too Deep
In 2017, Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in a case involving electoral maps drawn by Wisconsin lawmakers. When an attorney began his argument for why the districts as drawn so favored Republicans that they violated the U.S. Constitution, he was interrupted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who proceeded to describe what he feared would happen if the Court stepped in and started policing state electoral maps based on partisanship. “We will have to decide in every case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win,” Roberts said. He theorized that whichever party wins, the average person would simply see it as a partisan decision. “And that is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country,” Roberts concluded. Wisconsin’s districts were eventually upheld on technical grounds.
The justices faced another “unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering” case in 2019, brought by voters in North Carolina and Maryland who challenged their states’ congressional redistricting maps. This time, SCOTUS removed itself and the entire federal judiciary from policing partisan gerrymandering. Roberts wrote that “[such claims] present political questions beyond the reach of federal courts,” and pointed to state courts as one potential forum for litigants. Clearly, Roberts worried about the Court becoming entangled in highly politically charged redistricting lawsuits that could threaten its apolitical reputation.
But three years later, the Court’s conservative supermajority has gone out of its way to backpedal and insert itself in the middle of one of the country’s most politically competitive states. Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers challenged the legislative map drawn by the state’s Democratic governor, which created an additional Black majority district near Milwaukee without damaging the legislature’s GOP majority. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court relied on the Voting Rights Act in upholding the governor’s map; nevertheless, GOP lawmakers made an emergency request to SCOTUS to block the map. Last week, the Court’s majority accepted the request in an unsigned opinion, without a briefing or oral arguments. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan dissented, writing: “The Court’s action today is unprecedented. In an emergency posture, the Court summarily overturns a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision resolving a conflict over the State’s redistricting, a decision rendered after a 5-month process involving all interested stakeholders.” (supremecourt.gov, Guardian)
Hungary For More
- Hungary’s autocratic prime minister Viktor Orban has been in power since 2010. During his 12-year rule, Orban’s government has forged strong economic and diplomatic ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and deepened Hungary’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and nuclear energy technology.
- Hungary is Putin’s closest E.U. ally, and the only one of Ukraine’s E.U. neighbors that has refused to provide it with weapons or allow weapons to be transferred across its borders. The government has also opposed levying sanctions against Russian energy imports. Orban is seeking a fourth term in the country’s election this Sunday, and polling suggests it will be the closest contest since he took power.
- That probably explains why Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto claimed Wednesday that the Ukrainian government was attempting to influence the upcoming election in favor of parties opposed to Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party. In a social media video, Szijjarto insisted there was “ongoing coordination between the Hungarian left and representatives of the Ukrainian government.” He provided no evidence to support the claim. (AP)
Singing A New Tunisia
- Tunisia’s President Kais Saied was elected in 2019 amid public anger against the often deadlocked political system that emerged after the 2011 Arab Spring revolution that overthrew longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But after violent protests broke out in July 2021 over the government’s handling of the pandemic, Saied suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister, and assumed wide-ranging powers.
- On Wednesday, parliamentarians held a plenary session online and voted through a bill against Saied’s “exceptional measures.” Following the online session, Tunisia’s justice minister asked the attorney general to open a judicial investigation against the members on charges of “conspiring against state security.”
- Saied denounced parliament’s move as a “coup attempt” and said those responsible had “betrayed” the nation. He then announced he was dissolving “the Assembly of Representatives of the people, to preserve the state and its institutions.” Now an increasing array of critics is saying Saied has moved the country back down a dangerous path towards autocracy. (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- Five people shot dead near Tel Aviv, the third attack in Israel in a week (CNN)
- More US troops may be needed in Europe, top general predicts (Politico)
- US sanctions will target Russian supply chains next (Axios)
- US sanctions Iranians after missile strikes in Iraq, Gulf (ABC)
- Malicious update anchored worst cyberattack of Ukraine war (AP)
- Sri Lanka suffers long power cuts as currency shortage makes fuel scarce (Reuters)
- The Solomon Islands deal with China isn’t about security – and it will hurt the Pacific (Guardian)
That’s All She Vote
- In 2004, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure to add proof of U.S. citizenship as a requirement for voter registration. The measure grandfathered in voters who were already registered prior to 2005, when the law took effect. Then, a 2013 Supreme Court ruling said that Arizona couldn’t impose a proof-of-citizenship requirement on voters who register with a federal voter registration form that doesn’t require proof of citizenship.
- To comply with that, Arizona created a bifurcated voting system allowing federally registered voters to cast ballots in federal elections, but not state or local races. On Wednesday, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed new legislation that not only requires proof of citizenship, but makes it retroactive to include anyone registered before 2005, and apparently those registered with the federal form.
- Critics say the new law violates federal law and singles out older voters and long-time Arizona residents, potentially expunging almost 200,000 voters from the rolls. Perhaps Arizona Republicans are hoping the new bill gets to the Supreme Court, and the conservative supermajority will overturn the 2013 decision. (NPR)
Making A Mountain Out Of A MoleHillary
- Federal election regulators fined Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee earlier this month for not properly disclosing the money they spent on controversial opposition research that led to the infamous Trump-Russia dossier. Political candidates and groups are required to publicly disclose their spending to the Federal Election Commission, and they must explain the purpose of any specific expenditure more than $200.
- The FEC concluded that the Clinton campaign and the DNC misreported the money that funded the dossier, masking it as “legal services” and “legal and compliance consulting” instead of opposition research. The DNC was fined $105,000 and the Clinton campaign was fined $8,000. Both the Clinton campaign and the DNC have never conceded that they violated campaign finance laws, but they agreed to drop their pushback and accept the civil fines. (CNN)
Additional USA News
- Cawthorn’s orgies-and-drugs comment stirs trouble within Freedom Caucus (Politico)
- 8 states under tornado watch in South, Midwest (ABC)
- New York City Clears 239 Homeless Camps. Only 5 People Move to Shelters. (NYT, $)
- Biden presses Congress for new covid funding, gets second booster shot (WaPo, $)
- Trevor Reed’s family meets with Biden as former US Marine detained in Russia stages second hunger strike (CNN)
- Ukraine to receive additional $500 million in aid from US, Biden announces (NBC)
- Senate votes to advance Alvaro Bedoya’s FTC confirmation (CNN)
Let’s Hear It For The Toys
- Joe Trupia is the imaginative owner of Citizen Brick, a Chicago-area toy shop typically serving a small, but loyal, community of toy collectors. Over the last 12 years, Joe’s store has earned a reputation for making “far-out versions of the iconic LEGO mini figurines” for enthusiasts of the brand. Some examples include a Girl Scout figurine named “Cookie Pusher,” a Breaking Bad-inspired meth lab, and a strip club called the “Center for the Performing Arts.”
- Like so many others, Trupia watched the events unfolding in Ukraine and wanted to help. “We just wanted to do a small fundraising effort,” he said. His store decided to create and sell some little Ukraine-inspired toys. So from materials the store had on hand came Molotov cocktails – tiny green bottles with little flames and the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag – that sold for $20, and LEGO Zelenskyy figurines made from toy parts with skin tone similar to the Ukrainian president’s that went for $100. The toys sold out within hours and raised $145,000 benefiting the non-profit aid group, Direct Relief.
- There’s still demand for the tiny toys, but Citizen Brick can’t make more because LEGO doesn’t sell the necessary parts directly. “These are pretty scarce materials that we just had around the shop,” Trupia told a journalist. He’s still blown away by the toys’ extraordinary popularity, especially LEGO Zelenskyy. Then he added, somewhat sheepishly, “If you’d asked me a month ago who the President of Ukraine was, I probably couldn’t have told you.” (NPR)
- Scientists sequence the complete human genome for the first time (CNN)
- Fertility myths put millions off contraception, UN report warns (Guardian)
- Unraveling the mystery of parrot longevity (Phys.org)
- The CDC has lifted its risk advisory for cruise travel (CNN)
- EU wants to force fashion firms to make clothes more durable and recyclable (Guardian)
- Rare Sumatran rhino born in Indonesia a ‘new hope’ for survival of species (CNN)
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