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Pennsylvania Supreme Court issues new election map



Pennsylvania’s high court issued a new congressional district map for the state’s 2018 elections on its self-imposed deadline Monday, all but ensuring that Democratic prospects will improve in several seats and that Republican lawmakers challenge it in federal court.

The map of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a congressional map widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered. The map was approved in a 4-3 decision.

Most significantly, the new map likely gives Democrats a better shot at winning seats in Philadelphia’s heavily populated and moderate suburbs, where Republicans had held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including one labeled “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

The redrawn map could boost the Democratic Party’s quest to capture control of the U.S. House and dramatically change Pennsylvania’s predominantly Republican, all-male delegation.

Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters have to sort out which district they live in barely a month before the candidates’ deadline to submit paperwork to run.

Republican lawmakers are expected to quickly challenge the map in federal court, arguing that legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps.

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court ruled last month in a party line decision that the district boundaries unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria, such as keeping districts compact and eliminating municipal and county divisions.

The decision is the first time a state court threw out congressional boundaries in a partisan gerrymandering case and handed a victory to the group of registered Democratic voters who sued last June in a lawsuit backed by the League of Women Voters.

Candidates can start circulating petitions to run in their new district in a little over a week, Feb. 27. Pennsylvania has seen a surge in interest in running for Congress with six incumbents elected in 2016 not running again — the most in four decades — and Democrats vehemently opposing President Donald Trump.

Pennsylvania’s Republican delegation has provided a crucial pillar of support for Republican control of the U.S. House since 2010.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor’s office after the 2010 census crafted it to elect Republicans and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections under the now-invalidated map, even though Pennsylvania’s statewide elections are often closely divided and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

The new map will not apply to the March 13 special congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania’s 18th District between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb.

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Trump’s leaving the White House, but the party is still his



WASHINGTON — If you’re Liz Cheney, Mitch McConnell or Mitt Romney, here is your challenge as impeachment moves to a Senate trial: The GOP is still Trump’s party.

At least for now.

According to brand-new numbers from our NBC News poll, only 8 percent of Republican voters support Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.

That’s compared with 50 percent of all voters who say this, including 89 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents.

What also stands out: These percentages — overall and by party — are virtually identical to the impeachment/removal numbers for Trump during the Ukraine scandal.

It’s largely the story of the Trump Era: The numbers and partisan divide rarely change, even after an assault at the Capitol.

And just check out the opening paragraphs from this New York Times story.

“In Cleveland County, Okla., the chairman of the local Republican Party openly wondered ‘why violence is unacceptable,’ just hours before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. ‘What the crap do you think the American revolution was?’ he posted on Facebook. ‘A game of friggin pattycake?’”

“Two days later, the Republican chairman of Nye County in Nevada posted a conspiracy-theory-filled letter on the local committee website, accusing Vice President Mike Pence of treason and calling the rioting a ‘staged event meant to blame Trump supporters.’”

“And this week in Virginia, Amanda Chase, a two-term Republican state senator running for governor, maintained that President Trump might still be sworn into a second term on Jan. 20 and that Republicans who blocked that ‘alternative plan’ would be punished by the president’s supporters.”

If you’re a Republican opposed to Trump — or simply to how he conducted himself before last week’s attack — you’re in the minority of your party.

Back to the virus

Since Jan. 6 — the day of last week’s attack at the Capitol — this country has seen more than 2 million new coronavirus cases and more than 28,000 deaths from the virus.

Think about that again: In a little more than a week, 2 million new cases (!!!) and 28,000-plus deaths.

It’s that context — and presidential void — to view President-elect Joe Biden’s primetime address where he rolled out his $1.9 coronavirus relief package (more on that below).

The outgoing president has been MIA when it comes the coronavirus. So the incoming president has decided to take on the issue head-on before his inauguration.

And today, Biden delivers remarks on administering COVID vaccines to the U.S. population.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

23,421,473: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 237,251 more than yesterday morning.)

389,652: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 3,954 more than yesterday morning.)

128,947: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

275.78 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

965,000: The latest initial weekly unemployment claims in the U.S.

5: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

Here’s what’s in Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday called for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Thursday, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor.

The “American Rescue Plan” includes investments in a national vaccination program, additional direct payments and an increased federal minimum wage of $15 per hour.

“We are in a race against time. We need these resources to vaccinate the vast majority of Americans and to put safety measures in place that will help us put Covid behind us, so that we can reopen our schools, businesses, and once again be able to get there with our friends and family,” one senior transition official said on a briefing call with reporters.

Here’s some of what the plan asks for:

  • Containing Covid-19 and reopening schools by mounting a national vaccination program – Total: $416B. (That amount includes $20 billion for a national vaccination program and $170 billion to for schools).
  • Helping working families struggling from suffering economy – Total: $1 trillion. (That amount includes $1,400 per person direct payments and $400/week unemployment insurance programs for hard hit Americans).
  • Assisting small businesses, including minority business owners. (That includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments to pay frontline workers, as well as $15 billion in grants to help hardest-hit small businesses).

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ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Don’t miss this piece from Benjy Sarlin on how members of Congress are fearful even of some of their own colleagues.

And here’s the Washington Post on how some Capitol Police were battered at the hands of protestors.

GOP Sen. James Lankford has apologized to Black Tulsans for questioning the 2020 election results.

Here’s how Facebook and Twitter decided to make their moves on Trump’s accounts last week.

Biden has selected his deputy CIA director.

And he has picked his new director of vaccine efforts.

Rudy Giuliani may be on the outs with most of Trump World, but he still wants in.

The New York Times talked to GOP state and local leaders all over the country. Many described their devotion to Trump with an almost religious fervor.

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Why the defunct South Vietnam flag was flown at the Capitol riot



Ensigns bearing Confederate and neo-Nazi imagery defined the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. But for Vietnamese Americans, it’s the sight of a defunct flag — representing a country that ceased to exist nearly a half-century ago — that brought up painful questions about identity, trauma and the legacy of U.S. imperialism.

The yellow-and-red-striped banners of the former South Vietnam flew above crowds of rioters all over the Capitol grounds. Many of the flag carriers were Vietnamese Americans who, in support of President Donald Trump, have often used the emblem to express nostalgia for a lost home and opposition to communism.

“This flag to me is an anti-Communist flag,” Michelle Le, a Seattle-based real estate broker who flew the banner at the rally, wrote in a Facebook post, which has been deleted. “It’s a reminder of my roots and heritage. I had lived through Communism and I know the tyranny and the pain it had inflicted on many families.” (She declined to comment.)

But to community advocates who saw the South Vietnamese flag, or the Yellow Flag, as a symbol of democracy and unity, its presence at a riot was both alarming and infuriating.

“The ideas of authoritarianism, of overturning the people’s will, are not the principles that this flag stands for,” said Tung Nguyen, president of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization, or PIVOT. “It’s about us being free, and Trump is not someone you can be free under. White supremacy is not something you can be free under.”

President Donald Trump’s supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

For Vietnamese Americans, the Yellow Flag represents many, often clashing, aspects of the refugee experience. For decades, people have used it to express hatred for a communist regime that banished them from their country. The same sentiments buoyed the group’s long-standing loyalty to the Republican Party. (Vietnamese Americans were the only Asian group to favor Trump over President-elect Joe Biden in November.)

But the flag’s growing visibility on the far right “opens up a bigger can of worms” for the diaspora, said Thuy Vo Dang, an ethnic studies professor and curator for the Southeast Asian Archive at the University of California, Irvine. (The emblem has even been spotted in Australia at a “Stop the Steal” rally, a far-right campaign that falsely alleges widespread voter fraud against Trump.)

“On the one hand, it’s a political symbol,” she said, noting that the banner’s meaning has shifted over the years depending on “whose voice is loudest.” “But on the other, there is this very affective and sentimental personal attachment that many in the refugee community have toward it.”

After communist North Vietnam defeated the U.S.-backed South in 1975, scores of South Vietnamese refugees resettled in America. In Vietnam, the North’s red flag replaced their yellow one. In the 1990s, Vietnamese American leaders began lobbying local elected officials to recognize the defunct banner as the “Heritage and Freedom Flag” to represent the displaced overseas community. More than 20 states have adopted resolutions to do so.

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.Stephanie Keith / Reuters

Today, the flag is a permanent, sacred fixture at important cultural events, including Lunar New Year, or Tết, festivals, serving as a totem of solidarity and rebirth. It has allowed people to reminisce about their former lives, Vo Dang said, while giving them the strength to forge new paths in their adopted home.

But as with other emblems of national pride, allegiance to the South Vietnamese banner has also deepened divisions within the group.

In 1999, more than 10,000 residents of Westminster, a Vietnamese American enclave in Southern California, packed the streets in violent protest when a video store owner displayed a poster of Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary communist leader, along with the red flag. On college campuses, domestic and international students have fought over which Vietnamese flag should be flown at graduation ceremonies.

Nguyen, of PIVOT, said it’s crucial to acknowledge that the anger of the debate often arises from unaddressed trauma.

“A lot of our elders feel like they did suffer a lot in Vietnam and during the transition here, and they associate that suffering with things such as communism,” Nguyen said. “Their emotions are so strong they don’t always see what’s the real cause of their suffering.”

Deepening chasms within Vietnamese American community — along class, age and ideological lines — mirror those in American society at large, said Long Bui, a historian and author of “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory.”

“Most Vietnamese Americans are actually independent, but Republicans are most visible,” he said. The younger generation is strongly progressive, he said, but ethnic media tend to amplify conservative voices. The flag, however, “reflects the past and also present and future concerns” for the community, he said. One way to move forward is to recognize the dangers of hypernationalist thinking.

The controversy around the flag’s alignment with right-wing causes, Vo Dang said, gives Vietnamese Americans an opportunity to interrogate the accepted narrative about their past.

“Our relationship to the U.S. has always been informed by its role in Vietnam and its so-called role as ‘saviors’ to us as refugees,” she said. The framing conditions Vietnamese refugees to be “forever indebted” to their adopted country, she said, without acknowledging how U.S. military intervention contributed to the destruction of their homeland.

“So when Trump says loyalty to him is tantamount to loyalty to the U.S.,” she said, “some people really think they’re ‘freedom fighters’ upholding democracy.”

After last week’s events, many younger people started questioning their elders’ unyielding loyalty to and interpretation of the banner’s values.

“This is an opening for us,” Vo Dang said, “to hold our leaders to task and ask, ‘How can you help us create spaces for dialogue about our difficult past without reducing it to one-liners like, ‘This flag is about freedom’ or ‘This flag is about hate?””

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Tony Blair speaks out on Brexit as he appeals for UK to one day RETURN to Brussels bloc



TONY BLAIR has called for the UK to return to the European Union one day in the future.

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