Thomas Paine and Common Cents

President Ford dances with Queen Elizabeth on July 17, 1976.

I am curious as to how much Americans actually know about British history.  There is a certain amount of British history that intertwines with American history. After all we have fought two wars against them at least three wars with them. A real love-hate relationship. But nothing is more confusing than keeping track of the aristocratic power grabs and titles handed down from generation to generation. Not so here. Its all dollars and common cents.

In school we in America study The Magna Carta and how a bunch of discontent barons forced King John to sign The Great Charter way back in 1215, almost 400 years before our own history starts.  These rebellious aristocrats demanded certain rights from the king that would eventually evolve into our own Bill of Rights.

It was 560 or so years later in January of 1776, that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense hit the newsstands in the Colonies.  Washington D.C. was still a swamp on the banks of the Potomac River and the Beltway was not even a dirt road. K Street was not even a lobbyist’s dream.  Paine’s pamphlet created a stir across the Colonies with his rousing attack on the British hereditary monarchy.

Paine took direct aim at the king,  writing that “exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture.” Paine felt the monarchy was “one of those evils, which when once established is not easily removed.”  (Much like an old incumbent  Senator from West Virginia.)  Paine said people submitted to kings out of superstition, fear or just a chance to cash in on the king’s plunder.

According to Paine monarchy  “was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry … Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones.”

This is harsh stuff flying in the face of an ill-gotten belief at the time in the Divine Right of Kings.  This contrived political doctrine brought about a spiritual-religious belief in kingly absolutism. Unlike the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, who were considered gods, more enlighten medieval thinkers realized that kings were god-like and derived their right to rule from God.   It was sacrilegious to question an infallible God, who in his infinitesimal wisdom, would never place just any mere mortal on the  thrones of His Earthly kingdoms. If God was above the law it only made sense that his kings were, too. Hence, a democratic belief in elections and the rule of law no matter how much they would cost.

Even though we may disapprove of monarchical rule we do have a fascination with royals.  No matter how many times I watch TV shows like the Crown, Victoria, Wolf Hall or the Tudors, I just cannot keep track of all the comings and goings of Henrys, Edwards, and Georges. It becomes an Abbot and Castello routine of “Whose on the Throne?” Elizabeths not so much, there are two, right.

British history also devolves into the plethora of lower ranking lords that spill out of the ruling houses  Yorks and Lancasters followed by Hanovers and Windsors (and a pair of Oranges tucked in there somewhere). And of course, all the revolving, ascending and descending Dukes and Earls that would make up the House of Lords.

William the Conqueror, the original “Stormin”Norman.

Being Colonials, and out of touch with royals for the better part of two centuries, we have no idea to the ranking of such lords and ladies.  Who would really know that a Duke is higher on the pecking order then a Marquess followed by Earl, Viscount, and finally Baron. I am not sure how these titles are handed out.  I believe it started in 1066, after the Norman Conquest.  William the Conquer started dividing England up into manors (hence to the manor born) which he then turned over to his Norman barons. No doubt with certain allegiance of loyalty and fidelity expected in return.

The oldest English Earl is the Earl of Arundel, which dates back to the 1100’s. There was at least 16 or 23 Earls of Arundel, depending on how they are counted,  Around 1620 the Earl of Arundel became the Duke of Norfolk.  The titles have remained in the FitzAlan/Howard family and there have been 18 Dukes of Norfolk.

The Duke of Wellington looking rather regal.

The only dukes I am familiar with is the Iron Duke, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo; and Gene Chandler the self-proclaimed Duke of Earl. This fictitious bastardized title comes from his 1963 hit-single, now an Oldie Goldie, Duke of Earl.

Paine writes in Common Sense that some believe “that hereditary succession” prevents civil wars. This, he says, “is the most barefaced falsity ever imposed upon mankind.” At the time of his writing Paine claimed that Great Britain had gone through 30 kings, eight civil wars and 19 rebellions.

Paine was a real rebel-rouser ending up in the French Revolution

The War of Cousins or as we know it, The War of the Roses was a 15th Century, 30-year war pitting the Houses of York and Lancaster at one another.  Each side captured each other’s champion or forced defeated leaders into exile. A stable form of government?   Paine says there is nothing so uncertain as “the fate of war and the temper of a nation, when nothing but personal matters are the ground of a quarrel.”  Adding that Parliament  is”always following the strongest side.”

Paine did not hang around after the Revolutionary War to help get the rebellious Colonies a working form of government. This was left to men who had a keen understanding of British history. In fact, their insight into British history, politics and economics had them include a Nobility Clause in our Constitution that simply states:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief with really “deep pockets.”

Of course just because Congress does not officially pass out princely positions does not mean they do not exist otherwise in this country. It took the British centuries to establish a stable peerage. In the New World it is not so formal. This is not to say we are not with out squabbling, rich non-entitled ruling elite.We have billionaires that can spend close to $100 million to buy themselves an “elected” titled position; or at the very least put a strong down payment on getting the right man elected-peerage.

After 200 plus years as a republic we never created a Lord Protectorate to hand out riches to loyal followers. Here wealth was not inherited, it was created.  And with that the levers of power often go to the highest bidder. To paraphrase Paine, nothing tempts the fate and the temper of a nation than personal greed  ground in a good political  quarrel — with Congress “always following the richest side.”

We may not have titled barons sitting in Congress but we do have a few billionaires buying their way into the Beltway.

 

 

Advertisements

The more things change, the more they stay the same

 

‘”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Some believe that this quote came from George Santayana. We are more familiar with:  “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it;” — or become bamboozled by it.

Repeating history is a great device for storytelling. For those that were around in the 1980s, and somewhat sentient, may remember a wacky professor turning a 1982 model DeLorean into a time machine.

Director Robert Zemeckis took movie goers Back to the Future, which started at present day in 1985 and then jumped back in time to the 1950’s, all the while Marty McFly and Doc Brown were desperately trying to keep the space time continuum from unraveling.  In later squeals they leap into the future and then follow it bounding all the way back to the Wild West.

In 2004 J.J. Abrams confounded TV viewers with dueling, multiple realities in the series LOST. This show left viewers bouncing around the globe in variety of individual realities crisscrossing and spinning out of control like the pattern on a dye-tied tee shirt.

Those that are lost and do not know they are lost, usually remain lost.

In 2009 Abrams went to the big screen with Star Trek movies.  He took the original Star Trek series’ timeline and wrapped it around like the strips on a candy cane in such a way that there are now two Spocks inhabiting the universe. This was not the first time the Star Trek crew found themselves in a different time or alternative universes. It is easy to beguile a movie goer who is looking to be entertained. History, however is a different matter.

History has all the dramatic characteristics of a good novel without a DeLorean  time machine or movable island that turns time and space into Helter Skelter. History does this naturally. It is  like a sidewinder snake moving forward in a zigzagging way, pushing and pulling its way through time.

It was a turbulent time after World War II.  The war ended in a mushroom cloud. The United States was the only atomic power. But, in August of 1949 the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. The proliferation of this weapon of mass destruction created a real sense of Armageddon.   For the United States the big question was how did the Soviets get atomic bomb making technology so soon? A hint; it was not from the Internet or Facebook.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg sharing secrets with the Russians.

The Soviets got it the old fashion way.  The  bomb secrets came from Communist infiltrators and spies  in sensitive position in the United States government. Senator Joseph McCarthy made his mark hunting down communists inside and outside of government. Eventually, two former communist party members, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were rooted out, convicted of espionage, and later executed for being spies.

Currently there is no “Red Menace” threatening the United States. But, all through 1950’s the United States  was fully immersed in the “Red Scare” and fully immersed into what would become a the Cold War.  President Harry Truman was faced with charges that his government was infested with communist spies and sympathizers while he was dealing with a what some called  a communist monolith intent on engulfing the Free World. President Dwight Eisenhower dealt with the Soviets orbiting satellites;  and President John Kennedy went about as far as the two countries could go without actually launching an all out nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Soviets came into being overthrowing 500 years of entrenched, albeit inept, Romanov’s rule quickly and efficiently. They pushed this empire out of the way to create what President Ronald Reagan would call the “Evil Empire.” Starting with storming the Czar’s Palace in 1918,  they have become experts at toppling governments.

After World War II the Soviets were determined to spread communism and  control as much of  Europe as they could grab using the Red Army to stuff ballots and police voter fraud.  One by one the Soviets toppled one Eastern European government after another creating a block of communist countries later known as the Warsaw Pact. And it was deja vu  ever since  with tanks rolling into Hungry in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1969, and Afghanistan in 1979.

 

The original Soviet “hackers” invading Poland in 1939.

Today, it would be hard to argue that Russian motives have changed.  It appears as if we are “back to the future.” The difference now is there is no Berlin Wall. There is no overt threat of the Russian  Army  marching in with tanks to back up the ballot box.  Unless it is in the Ukraine or Syria.

What was once done straight forward with T-72 tanks  is done so much easier and quicker and stealthier with social media. An over zealous, miscreant hacker on social media cannot launch an errant missile “accidentally” shooting down a civilian airliner. Instead he can post all the needed propaganda aimed at unsettling an election and sowing general discord.

The interesting twist to  this is the invaded country does all the heavy lifting.  It provides the internet and social platforms and most of the personell  in which the Russians can launch their hacking and fake news attacks from.  Once the fake news is posted, the likes pass it along. Eventually talk radio and TV talking heads start bloviating, arguing and  agreeing on what set of misinformation is “true. ” They give the phoney news legs that it can run with.

Eventually, certain  less alert, partisan-elected officials begin pontificating the one-sided merits of the fabricated information completely unaware they are defending the Russian motives in around-about way. People are easily duped.  Even the Bible tells us “there is no new thing under the sun.”   Meanwhile,  the snake slithers on..

There is a debate if it was Mark Twain or Winston Churchill who said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants (boots) on.”  It really does not matter who gets attribution.  With instant messaging a lie, or fake news can move about the globe almost instantaneously and with exponential speed.

Obsolete Russian mechanical trolls and bots

What is interesting to witness is how easy it is to see the people duped into the misinformation, misconceptions and misinterpretations of Russian intentions. This, despite 100 years of historical evidence of Russian meddling into foreign governments. A snake does not change despite shedding its skin. It stays a snake.

Recently a Justice Department Special Prosecutor looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has arrested four Americans and interviewed many others for not being forthright with what appears  ill-advised negotions with Russian officials during the 2016 election. Mere snake-bitten novices playing with experts.

Carl Sagan wrote  that “One of the saddest lessons of history is, “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

 

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

http://bigthink.com/the-proverbial-skeptic/those-who-do-not-learn-history-doomed-to-repeat-it-really“

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/10/how-communism-took-over-eastern-europe-after-world-war-ii/263938/

https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/9-quotes-from-winston-churchill-that-are-totally-fake-1790585636

 

Symbols: Stand up, Sit down or Take a Knee

Traditionally in football when a player’s knee touches the ground he usually has the football and that means the ball is down and the play is over. The trend, however, seems to be when a player takes a knee it is an indication that the player’s career is over.

Several years ago, Tim Tebow created a stir with taking a knee after the play was over when he scored a touchdown.  This was a  spiritual gesture, a more solemn form of celebration that was even given the term Tebowing. Tebowing, imitated on and off the field, was not the typical end zone celebration of spiking the football or the myriad other end zone dances performed after crossing the goal line.

Bronco players Tebowing.

A couple of seasons ago Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee before the game actually started. He took his knee in protest during the National Anthem. Kaepernick wanted to bring attention “to the oppression of people of color.” A gesture that has caused national attention and earned Kaepernick status as a Public Enemy Number One right there with wanted men like John Dillinger and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.

Ironically, both of these quarterbacks were released and have not taken a knee in any NFL huddle for several seasons. Their actions could easily be interpreted as a symbolic gestures. According to Merriam-Webster.com a symbolic gesture is an  act that has no purpose or effect other than to show support, respect, etc. And I guess this is where we run into the debate on how to show support and respect.

In most cases symbolic gestures are spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment responses. We are more familiar with simple use of hand gestures during polite conversation. This can morph quickly into the more animated hand gesture accompanied with the vein popping, red-faced, eye-bulging action of flipping off a driver who just cut you off in traffic. These sorts of gestures are easily understood; others, not so easy.

Symbolism is a way of expressing intangible ideas and concepts with recognizable material objects, which can be open to various interpretations and misconceptions. It could be like beauty is “in the eyes of the beholder.” It could be as Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter said in trying to determine pornography  by simply saying he could not define it “but I know it when I see it.”

Franklin thought it looked like a Turkey but it looks more like a Blue Jay that just got beaned.

When The Continental Congress decided to design a seal for the newly united colonies, they went to its go-to guys who did a bang-up  job on the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Three of the best philosophical, scientific and legal minds of the time. Basically the Congress took a pass on the seal for six years as different artistically-gifted colonials took a shot at creating the symbols acceptable to a finicky Congress.

So what do we see when we see a symbol?   Franklin thought one of the first proposed seal’s depiction of the Bald Eagle looked more like a turkey. Jefferson’s vision for the seal was an illustration of Pharaoh in his chariot chasing Moses and the Hebrews across the Red Sea with the motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God as part of the seal.  I am not sure how that would play out today.

Pharaoh being swallowed up while Moses receives divine protection.

It eventually took three shots to get the symbols on The Great Seal that The Continental Congress wanted to represent the its beliefs and and values to future generations of Americans. On June 20, 1782 Congress approved the seal as we know it today. Everything on the seal from the colors, the 13-step pyramid with the ever watching eye in the sky on the reverse side symbolize a belief in the new nation.  Even the Latin phrases: “One out of many (or from many)” and  “New order of ages” are meant to represent the ideals of 1776. A sort of 18th Century flash forward to the present is a reminder of the symbols from the past meant to guide us into the future.

Wikipedia

Although the Great Seal was a thoroughly thought-out process sometimes symbolic traditions come along haphazardly.  For example, how did the knee-jerk tradition of bestowing God’s blessing on somebody who just sneezed get its start?

Wikimedia Commons

According to Baseball Reference  The Star Spangled Banner was first played at a baseball game  in May of 1862 at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn. The United States Navy started playing the Star Spangled Banner at official functions in 1889.  In 1916  President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order making the Star Spangled Banner the National Anthem.

A half-of-a-century after the game at Union Grounds, The Star Spangled Banner made it back to the playing field. On September 5 during the 1918 World Series game in Chicago a band played the Banner. It just so happened they played it when everybody in the ball park would be standing for the traditional 7th Inning Stretch. A sailor on leave snapped to attention and the crowd followed suit. It has been played at World Series games and Opening Day ceremonies ever since, with one caveat: A band had to be present.

We have to remember that this was a time when the public address systems were in their infancy and was more likely a strong-lunged man with a megaphone.

Symbolism sometimes has a haphazard way of coming together.  I am not sure if Tebow or Kaepernick ran their decision to take a knee before a Congressional committee. More than likely they just did it as a symbolic gesture. Whether we stand up, sit down, take a knee or just shut up, the gesture, as a symbol, is always up for interpretation.

 

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/09/24/colin-kaepernick-vs-tim-tebow-a-tale-of-two-christianities-on-its-knees/?utm_term=.892a4a41d66c

https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=5

https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/27807.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/12/us/washington-talk-briefing-tribute-to-cia.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/american-myths-benjamin-franklins-turkey-and-the-presidential-seal-6623414/

http://time.com/4955623/history-national-anthem-sports-nfl/

conventihttps://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/The_Star_Spangled_Banneron

http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-star-spangled-banner-200-anniversary-20140912-story.html

After the Revolution we can all go back to Moscow

Recent news reports have the Russian hacking-election interference investigations moving at a faster pace as spat of subpoenas have been sent out and search warrants executed. Congress has socially invited Facebook and Twitter execs into closed door sessions to explain their unwitting role as social director for Russian election meddling.

The real issue is not if the Russians trolled, hacked or bo(t)ught their way into the 2016 Presidential election through a sea of social media. It was probably more about how easy it was to get so many “likes” while posting ads and fake news.

The open format of social media has made election meddling a lot easier.  It always has been the mission of the Communist International  to spread their brand of Marxism throughout the world.  And let’s face it, there has been a Communist Party in the United States, CPUSA, since the 1920’s.  The CPUSA has ran a presidential candidate starting with William Foster in 1924 and ending with Gus Hall in 1984.

Ironically, according to Marxist.org both men received the same vote counts of 36,386 votes. Voter fraud? In 60 years of presidential elections the CPUSA ended up exactly were they started.  But those were tough times to get any sort of mainstream media buy.

Communists supported former FDR’s  Vice President, Henry Wallace, who ran as the Progressive candidate in the 1948 election.  There were two other socialist candidates running in the that election. And although none of them received a single electoral vote, they did pull in 65,000 more votes than Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat States-Rights’ Party, which managed 39 electoral votes. It seems ironic that these two political opposites now form the vocal bases of both the Democrat and Republican parties.

For most of its existence, CPUSA received financial support from the Communist International, the Comintern.  The Comintern pushed for world communism but suspended its efforts in 1943 in a show of allied support in World War II. It was not until 1989 that the Soviet Union stopped funding the CPUSA. Funding that the FBI knew about and tracked.

Membership in the CPUSA  was never more than 100,000 members, most of whom probably went underground when Senator Joseph McCarthy started his “Red” baiting.  And no doubt, McCarthy snared a few vocal socialists sympathizers he could paint as being red into his bear traps.

According to a CIA research report, The Soviet Union and Nonruling Communist Party, “Almost all nonruling communist parties received some form of direct or indirect financial support from the Soviet Union.” For instance, in 1978 the Philippine communists received $50,000 from the Soviet Union while in 1981 the Soviets helped the French communists with “400,000 tons of oil at low price for profitable resale.”

Granted, it could be argued that placing ads or fake news on social media sites may not be legally or illegally construed as “direct or indirect support” to a political party. But it is a form of influence. In any case, it would fall somewhere under the First Amendment particularly, after Citizen United, where the Supreme Court ruled money is free speech. Talk about a double speak.

Today, Moscow has no need to get a KGB operative into a CPUSA meeting. What may have been done face-to-face in a semi-covertly fashion between a KGB agent and an American comrade can now reach the masses and be done through social media; all the while under the auspices of protected speech.  Trolls and bots have replaced trained spies and handlers from the Motherland.

What were once the scoffed at voices deep in the political backwoods are now roaring crowds on main street thanks to social media. They can now blast their message from a bed in New Jersey or from Red Square in Moscow.

With the advent of social media and other instantaneous posting sites  Russia, or anybody else can influence just about any election in any country at anytime.  To think otherwise is contrary to history. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’ll catch all bad content in our system. We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly I don’t think society should want us to. Freedom means you don’t have to ask for permission first.”  Where was this idea during the McCarthy hearings.

Some websites to see:

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/02/555103005/facebook-surrenders-russian-linked-influence-ads-to-congress

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000496805.pdf

http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/government/elections/president/timeline.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26126325

http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/21/media/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-russian-ads/index.html

 

Those Krazy Kims: Like Father Like Sons

 

Again, with the North Koreans.

North Korea fired another missile over Japan. There must be some sort of rhyme or reason to their actions.  One time they shoot one high and short that lands in the Pacific near a school of tuna and the next time it is low and long with boasts about taking out the multiple Starbucks on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  The last missile was low and long and could have reached Guam if it was pointed in that direction.

What puzzles me, is the logic to all of this missile popping.  Either the North Korea is board certified-crazy or it is your little brother on the side of the house playing with matches.  It is like

A steely-eyed Missile Man?

a group of boys with bottle rockets aiming them to land on their neighbor’s front porch just to piss-off the old fart that lives there.

At this time, I am going to go with crazy just because it is extremely cold there. I know this is unfair.  A lot of the world’s population lives in cold places.  You do not see the Swedes shooting missiles over Norway and into the Norwegian  Sea.

North Korea, however, is the strange family.
They live in the house on the end of the only dead-end street in the neighborhood.  Nobody passes in front of the house because nobody has reason to go down there. The mailman does not go down there. On a rare occasions a dim light can be seen in an upstairs window. They home school their kids. They ignore all Home Owners Association regulations – their garbage just appears on the curb at random times and the only time you see them is when they come out yelling and screaming, waving a meat cleaver while chasing the local stray cat stupid enough to wonder into their yard.

But then maybe it is a daddy thing.  On September 9, 1948 Kim IL-sung became the leader of North Korea. He held various titles of authority during his life but when he died on July 8, 1994 he was elevated to “Eternal President of the Republic.”  From the time Grand Dad took control of Korea we have had 13 Presidents.  And yes two of them were daddy and son. I do not know but I am sure following the Eternal President was a tough act Kim Jong-il to follow.  Maybe Kim Jong-un is just trying to live up to his Grand Dad’s Korean War carnage with his missiles and earn a larger than life statue in Pyongyang.

A father pointing the way to his son. The Mansudae Grand Monument

The Eternal President of the Republic invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950 in what he termed the “Fatherland Liberation War.” Two days later the United Nations sanctioned military action against the invasion. If not for Chinese intervention Kim IL-sung may have spent the rest of his eternal life in an exile’s grave in the Soviet Union or China.

The war, however,  turned into a “meat grinder,” one of attrition.  It was a modern day World War I with jets.   An armistice was signed on July 1953 that created a Demilitarized Zone and from there we have sat watching the Kim Dynasty’s dementia grow as it is being passed down from father to son. Instead of diplomats and generals maybe we need a couple of shrinks and couch.

The United States has had some experience in dealing with dynasties.  After all we won our independence from George III — the House of Hanover.  We fought the “divine wind” in the Pacific during World War II that brought the “heavenly sovereign” of Japan back down to earth.

But North Korea is different. Diplomatic or military options may not be the best way to deal with today’s  30 something adult male with missiles and launch codes. It may be better to treat the youngest Kim as you would your nephew who has not emerged from his parent’s basement since the last version of Call of Duty was released.

The problem is nowhere on the planet has anybody come up with how to deal with these cellar dwellers. Parents have quit sending food down to them.  They have turned the lights out on them and have tried not to think what they do with their waste products. Their dedication to duty has their six-inch Howard Hughes’ finger-nailed claws clutching a controller like life itself depends on it.

Instead of treating North Korea as  a militarily,  it should be considered it an insane asylum. Instead of sanctions the UN should Baker Act Kim Jong-un. After nearly 70 years of Kim rule, maybe its time to send in the guys wearing white coats and carrying straight jackets.  Then herd the lot them off to a padded cell.

 

 

Minute Man III pic AF.mil

Call of Duty pic Flickr

All other Wikimedia and Wikipedia

 

 

Ghosts and Monsters

As a kid I never believed in ghosts.  Monsters  were a different story.  Ghosts to me were ethereal and despite all the Halloween hype just did not scare me.  Monsters, on the other hand, had me under the bed with the dog. They are more tangible to reality  especially if they were from outer space where anything close to science or myth could be justified.

Now that I am older I have come to believe in ghosts but not in the sense of haunted mansions or dancing spirits in graveyards at night.  Ghosts are ambiguous and unexplained but usually there is an attempt to rationalize or explain what appears to be a physical appearance.  Too often we find ourselves like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of OZ with his eyes closed babbling his mantra: Oh, I do believe in spooks.

Aliens on a mission

Monsters on the other hand have a more realistic aspect.  Where a ghost may materialize through a wall a monster can take the wall down.  Monsters have a mission.  Godzilla came to destroy Tokyo. Invaders from Mars were attempting to conquer and enslave Earth. The Predator was dropping in from deep space for his annual hunting trip to stalk humans in the jungle. This has more fear to it then something that just goes bump in the night.

History has its monsters.  Some have been immortalized in fiction like Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. Others are immortalized just for their ferocity and barbarity like Attila the Hun.  And monsters are not restricted to certain eras of time. We have had our modern-day monsters like Hitler and his Nazis with their death camps and Pol Pot in Cambodia with his killing fields. Who knows, Kim Jong Un could become one.

Some historical monsters never become ghosts. They have made the transformation from human straight to monster.  Their place in history is secured much the way Benedict Arnold’s name is synonymous to the word traitor.   It does not matter what heroic deeds Arnold did during the Revolutionary War, his selling out to the British is what he is  remembered for. And in Arnold’s defense most people could not tell you what he actually did. Monsters cannot escape their moniker.

In most cases it does not take long to identify monsters. This is nothing new.  It did not take Romans long to begin removing images of Nero and the pulling down of his Golden Palace after he was determined to be an enemy of the public. It could be argued that Nero knew the Praetorian Guard was coming for him and decided to kill himself and save them the trouble.

A slightly tainted Nero

American colonists in New York pulled down a statute of King George III and turned his majesty into bullets to be fired at Red Coats.  Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution destroyed statutes of Alexander the III, changed the name of St. Petersburg and went so far as to kill Czar Nicholas III and his entire family. Other unloved potentates managed to see the pitchforks and torches in the distance and got out of town a few steps ahead of the mob.

But those were obvious monsters. Historical ghosts have managed to move through eddies of time, appearing and then fading back into the mists. It is during these historical séances that ghosts can be immortalized in granite; their earthly forms captured for eternity.

The problem with these marble monuments and men is that a change in the historical perspective can easily transform a ghost into a monster.  A shift in the accepted historical narative can radically change the continuum.  This can cause “a recalculating” on the direction history takes in the present. An obvious result is the pulling down of these idolized statutes from their plinths and turning  them into monsters.

Ghosts venerated in their time are subjected to historical decay. Their deeds are turned into history and legend and then materialize as bronze men on raised granite-marble pedestals . Exposed to the elements the bronze will oxidize and change color. Without proper care the statute will corrode away. But what happens when the people’s perspectives about these marble men disintegrate?    Ghostly beliefs of the past become perceived monstrous deeds of the present.

 

All photos Wikimedia commons

 

 

 

To Boldly Earn What No Woman has Earned Before

Near the border dividing Europe and Asia south of the Ural Mountains lies the Kazakh Steppe. In this vast 800,000 square kilometer region is the Earth’s largest dry steppe. It is also the site of Baikonur Cosmodrome the world’s largest space port. It was here on June 16, 1963 that Vostok 6 launched carrying the first woman, Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, into space.

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova

Tereshkova’s flight was a dual mission.  She launched two days after Cosmonaut Valeriy Bykovsky left Baikonur in Vostok 5. The two later rendezvoused coming within three miles of each other. Tereshkova made 48 orbits and spent more than 70 hours in space.

Time warp to June 18, 1983. The Space Shuttle Challenger (Space Transportation System or STS) carries Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. As a Mission Specialist on STS-7, Ride helped launch two communication satellites, made 97 orbits and spent more than six days in space.

Astoraunat Sally Ride

Two years down the flight path, on October 5, 1984, Challenger STS-41-G is launched. This is NASA’s 13th Shuttle mission and Challenger’s sixth flight.   This is Ride’s second flight on the Challenger and with her this time is Mission Specialist, Kathryn Sullivan. This is the first NASA mission with two women on board. On this mission Sullivan would become the first American woman to walk in space. Sullivan, however, is not the first woman to walk in space.  That was Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya on Soyuz T-12 on July 25, 1984.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson

And just this year Astronaut Peggy Whitson broke Jeff Williams’ record of 534 days in space. Whitson is now the longest serving American in space.  She passed Williams on April 24. Whitson is due back on terrafirma from a tour on the International Space Station in September 2017.

While  women have boldly chosen to go “where no man has gone before,” four women  have died trying to go there. Two, Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnek were on the Challenger (STS-51-L) when it exploded shortly after launch; and Kalapana Chawla and Laurel Blair Salton Clark died when Columbia (STS-107) broke apart on reentry.

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, flight engineer, ponders the view from the Cupola of the International Space Station.

The Final Frontier does not discriminate.  The finality of space is uncompromising and unforgiving for both men and women. It deals with all on an equal footing.  But back on Earth equality is debatable. For instance, President John F. Kennedy dropped the flag on the space race with his challenge to go to the moon and back: safely.  We did this. He may have launched us into the Final Frontier but it is here on Earth his “New Frontier” was intended to bring forth civil and economic rights. A part of that program was to raise the minimum wage and for equal pay for women. Something we are still grappling about as we ponder missions to Mars and back.

A gender wage gape existed then and today that gap still exists.  A recent executive order rolled back a previous executive order dealing with the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. This previous executive order was created in 2014 to ensure that companies doing businesses with the federal government adhere to labor and civil rights laws.

Women on any space-time continuum have made less then men. Women today make 80 cents on the $1 compared to men. This may not seem like a lot of money but over the span of a working career it adds up. The gender-wage gap is felt not only in a weekly paycheck but on a family’s standard of living. It also effects retirement and Social Security benefits working woman will receive. Particularly, if these benefits are based on an employees five highest years. According to median income statistics,  women make less than $11,000 a year or about a half-million dollars less over their careers then men.

It was six days before Tereshkova’s flight in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act that mandates that men and women get equal pay for what is called “substantially equal” work at the same place of business. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this gap will not be closed until 2059 — almost 100 years after Kennedy signed the bill.  That would be 43 years from now — or at least a another working career. Woman may have conquered the Final Frontier but its the old frontier that pulls equal pay into a Black Hole only to be lost in space.

Some sites to visit

http://www.space.com/21571-valentina-tereshkova.html

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/features/ride_anniversary.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/peggy-whitson-breaks-record-for-longest-time-in-space-by-a-us-astronaut_us_58fd9a7ee4b06b9cb917d74d

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/11/astronaut-peggy-whitson-flies-iss-sets-record-longest-american-in-space-speeddesk/

https://history.nasa.gov/women.html

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-pulls-back-obama-era-protections-women-workers-n741041

https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2017/04/04/trump-order-drops-pesky-regulations-on-equal-pay-sexual-harassment/#1eb01385c100

https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/0779dc2f-4a4e-4386-b847-9ae919735acc/gender-pay-inequality—-us-congress-joint-economic-committee.pdf

Photo Credits

Wikipedia:  International Space Station,  Sally Ride, Valentina Tereshkova

Flickr: Peggy Whitson

The Tale of Two Generals

 

Vincenzo_Camuccini_-_La_morte_di_Cesare
Caesar dealing with a partisan Senate

When General Dwight D. Eisenhower sat down with General Alfred Jodl in Reims, France in May 1945 to sign Germany’s unconditional surrender ending World War II, the two generals had two drastically different post-war fates awaiting them.

Generals and politics rarely mix well.  The recent exploits of Army General Michael Flynn, and his continuing saga as an alleged political Russian go-between in the last election to allegations of foreign money payouts, has him jinking and jamming like a locked-on fighter pilot in a dogfight as he tries to avoid the political missiles being fired at him by those who believe he may have been in Putin’s vest pocket.

General Flynn, Putin’s money man in Washington?

Flynn is not the first general in history, nor is he likely to be the last, to find himself being the duck in a political shooting gallery  Not too long ago, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal both built exemplary combat reputations only to be brought down by the friendly fire of politics.

Of course most people are familiar with Shakespearean saga of Julius Caesar–the conqueror of Gaul;  the Roman general who faced down Barbarian attacks–but was brought down by a mob of knife-wielding conspiratorial Roman Senators. The transparency there was obvious.

Napoleon sailing off into the sunset under the watchful eyes of the British.

And then there was Napoleon, the twice exiled General/Emperor of France. He conquered large portions of Europe, set his brother up as king of Spain, and for nearly 20 years kept Europe at war.  When he was finally defeated at Waterloo, he was sent into exile for a second time to a small island in the Atlantic off the African coast where he died of stomach cancer on May 5, 1821.

Gen Marshall was hard on the Nazis but some thought he was soft on Commies.

Even Eisenhower’s boss General George Marshall, who helped guide the US war effort against the Axis powers during World War II came under post-war attack. After the war, he served as Secretary of State and Defense but could not avoid the righteous wrath of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Red” baiting. One senator went so far as to  boldly claim that, “General George C. Marshall is a living lie” saying “he is eager to play the role of a front man for traitors.” But then this was the era of “un-American activities.”

In some ways surviving the dangers of the battlefield for generals may be a lot easier than trying to maneuver around the political playing field during and after the war.

Jodl, the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, (the German army) not only had the dubious honor of dealing with a fanatical and more than slightly deranged dictator on a day-to-day basis; but he also was given the task of unconditionally surrendering the Third Reich over to the Allies.

Jodl was hard on Commies but some thought he was a criminal.

Many prominent, high ranking Nazis avoided Allied retributions by committing suicide. Jodl faced the post-war Nazi fallout at Nuremberg.  Jodl may not have been deeply immersed in Hitler’s “Final Solution” and the Holocaust. He did, however, sign two military orders that did not sit well with the post-war victors. One order was specifically aimed at the Soviets.  The order allowed German troops to summarily execute captured Russian commissars or Communist political officers. The other order allowed for the summarily execution of all commandos whether they were captured in uniform or not.

At the Nuremberg War Trials he was found guilty and hung.  As the model of the proper Prussian soldier he demanded to be executed at the post by a firing squad. Instead, his demise came dangling at the end of a rope like a common criminal.  He was cremated along with Hermann Goering and nine other convicted war criminals. To avoid any future of  shrines or deification to the deceased, their ashes were scattered in the River Isar to become river-bottom sediment to any future Nazi grave site pilgrimages.

Eisenhower, or the other hand maneuvered his way through the political post-war era to became the 34th President of the United States. He was able to avoid the trip wires of the political landscape and enjoy the undulating fairways and greens of the golf course.  While in office he played almost 800 rounds of golf.  In 1961 he retired to Gettysburg, Pa. to an enjoyable political exile.

 

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/napoleon-dies-in-exile

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mccarthy-accuses-state-department-of-communist-infiltration

http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/marshall/aa_marshall_mcarthy_1.html

http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/marshall/aa_marshall_mcarthy_2.html

http://golfweek.com/2009/11/02/dwight-d-eisenhower-golf-white-house/

Photo credits:

Wikimedia commons Caesar’s Death,  Vincenzio Camuccini La mort di Caesar

Wikimedia commons Napoleon on Board the Bellerophan Sir William Quiller Orchardson

Wikimedia commons Marshall, Jodl

Defense Intelligence Agency  Flynn

Going Nuclear and One Vote’s Fallout

 

Wikimedia Commons
Supreme Court Building

Recently the United States Senate went nuclear on the filibuster concerning Supreme Court nominations.  Going nuclear for one vote sounds like trying to kill a mosquito with a shot gun; but it does makes a lot of sense when one man’s vote can decide the fallout of a Presidential election.

Samuel J. Tilden
Rutherford B. Hayes

 

 

The 1876 Presidential election,which got a lot of attention after the 2000 contested Presidential election, was one that was fraught with fraud and voter irregularities, intimidation, violence and shooting clubs, particularly in the South.  The Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden had a slight lead over Rutherford B. Hayes in both the popular and Electoral College vote. However, there were 20 disputed electoral votes. Tilden eventually needed just one of those votes to give him the majority needed to claim victory.

The Electoral College has been the bane of the Democratic Party. Thomas Jefferson first got ensnared with Electoral College when he and Aaron Burr tied for the 1800 election. It took the House of Representatives, which was full anti-Jefferson Federalist, 11 days and 35 ballots to realize they hated Burr more than Jefferson and that the Electoral College really wanted Jefferson as president. The Twelfth Amendment was passed to make sure that snafu would not happen again.

Henry Clay

In 1824 Andrew Jackson saw Henry Clay steal his election in the House when Jackson failed to win a majority of the electoral votes in what was called the “Corrupt Bargain.”  It was a deal that made John Quincy Adams president and Clay the Secretary of State. At that time, four of the first six presidents had served as Secretary of State and Jackson’s supporters believed this was Clay’s attempt to position him for a run at the presidency. When Jackson was elected president, he took out his revenge on his political opponents and moved his policies through with the help of the “spoils system.”

But in 1876, parts of the South were still under Radical Reconstruction.  Union troops were still garrisoned around the South to ensure that Reconstruction civil rights continued and to ensure Republican control of state governments.  The South was ready to throw off the yoke of Radical Republican rule and run Northern carpetbaggers and scalawags out of Dixie. In fact, there were Democratic majorities in all but three Southern States: Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana.

Former slaves voting in 1867 in New Orleans

The 1876 election was the first Presidential Election in 20 years where a Democratic Candidate won a majority of the popular vote. The close election was compounded by voting irregularities and was contested in the three Southern states where the Grand Old Party was barely holding on.  There was one electoral vote being contested in Oregon.

Flash back to 1869 when Congress passed a new Judiciary Act.  This Act expanded the Supreme Court to nine justices.  During the Civil War, and the years following the war, Court membership slipped to seven.  The following year President Ulysses S. Grant chose two new justices, William Strong and Joseph P Bradley, both were sworn in March of 1870 and both would play a role in the 1876 election, Bradley more so than Strong.

As Inauguration Day approached like a lumbering fire truck, attempts to settle the matter brought about an extraordinary committee.  For the first time since the Civil War, the Democrats were in control of the House of Representatives. The Republicans held the Senate with the White House up for grabs. It was the beginning of the “Solid South.”  The old Confederacy states were falling back into the hands of Democrats – except for the three contested states.

In a moment of bipartisanship, despite that the country was still waving the bloody shirt over the Civil War, Congress devised a sure-fire compromise to grid lock who would get the 20 contested electoral votes.  It created a 15-member Electoral Commission of seven Democrats and seven Republicans with one so-called independent member. To further complicate matters, the commission was composed of five Senators, five House members and five Supreme Court Justices.  A real All-Star team of who’s on first.  The swing vote in this ensemble was supposed to be Justice David Davis.

Joseph P. Bradley

With so much at risk, backroom  deals were being tossed around like horseshoes at a backyard barbecue. Illinois Democrats tried to get out in front of the deal. After the commission members were chosen, Illinois Democrats elected Davis to the Senate. Their thinking was that this might help solidify Davis’s Democratic leanings. Davis, however, recuses himself.  Enter the one man with the one vote or in this case 20 votes: moderate Republican and Supreme Court Associate Justice, Joseph P Bradley, as the crowd surfer in the political mosh pit.

In no great surprise, the commission voted strictly along party lines: eight votes for Hayes and seven for Tilden giving Hayes a 185-184 victory and the White House. Starting with Lincoln the GOP would control the White House for 56 of the next 72 years. Although they did impeach Andrew Johnson, supposedly one of their own. The Republicans would keep a firm hand on the White House through the Gilded Age and right up to the Great Depression.

The Democrats did not come away empty handed.  They got Federal troops withdrawn from the South, which ended Reconstruction. Enter the age of Jim Crow and any attempts at civil rights in the South for another 100 years. They also got a Southern Democrat in Hayes Cabinet, the Post Master General. Finally they got a promise that there would be federal support for the Texas Pacific transcontinental southern railroad route. The railroad never happened. Business will always trump politics.

The Senate may have nuked a big part of the filibuster enabling it to get one man’s vote on the Supreme Court. The fallout from the blast, however, may not be radiated for years to come.

 

Pictures Wiki Commons

Some websites to visit

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_election.html

https://millercenter.org/president/jackson/domestic-affairs

http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/compromise-of-1877

http://constitution.laws.com/election-of-1876

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/reconstruction/essays/contentious-election-1876

https://books.google.com/books?id=_48uAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=joseph+p+bradley’s+nomination+hearings+in+the+senate&source=bl&ots=dvT5ChCZIm&sig=zk0RGc0ZQQZ5v_PND25JnlSRCMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjA5qanpKTTAhXIVyYKHWx9AcIQ6AEIRTAH#v=onepage&q=joseph%20p%20bradley’s%20nomination%20hearings%20in%20the%20senate&f=false

 

April, a Divisive Month and part of a rough 100 Days

 

With an explosion that would echo through the next four years and a flash of light that would singe the soul of America, a 90 pound shell belched out from the mouth of 10 inch Seacoast Mortar into the early morning darkness.  Its parabolic arch and burning fuse moving upward and over the waters of Charleston Harbor and then descending downward, exploding over Fort Sumter signaling the near-by forts to commence firing.  This was April 12, 1861, 40 days into President Abraham Lincoln’s first administration.

Lincoln basically had to sneak into Washington to be inaugurated. This may have been a good indication how his first 100 days would go.  Today we argue over the size of the crowds at recent presidential inaugurations.  Lincoln won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular vote but had almost 60 percent of the electoral vote. Lincoln is the only president elected with less than 40 percent of the popular vote. He did not receive a single vote in the Deep South “cotton belt” States. Even as popular as President John Kennedy was, he won with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

Lincoln’s Inauguration Day crowd. Not so huge by today’s standard.

So on March 4, 1861, when Lincoln took to the steps of the Capitol seven Southern states had already left the union — the most of any president before or since — with four more to follow after the bombing of Fort Sumter. April was a rough month for Lincoln and the next four years would be rougher.

In the 1800’s  politics went beyond Blue States and Red States.  Lincoln may not have been the first president to hear some form of “not my president.” But he was the first and only president to face  a real divided America.

Calhoun did not see eye-to-eye with Jackson.                                                             fabius maximus

 

The talk of states actually leaving the Union started with the Hartford Convention, New England states strongly opposed to the War of 1812.  Later during the Nullification crisis,  South Carolina threatened to leave the Union over tariff issues during Andrew Jackson’s administration.

As the North became more industrialized there was a need for a higher tariff to protect the growing commerce.  The South remained agrarian based and disagreed with the tariff.  John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina Democrat and Jackson’s former vice president, championed the idea floated by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that states could nullify laws that they considered unconstitutional. This was before Marbury v Madison where Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Supreme Court gets to rule on the constitutionality of laws not the states or the executive branch. The Nullification Crisis was settled with the Union intact.  But after leaving office, Jackson was asked if he had any regrets to which he replied that he regretted not hanging Calhoun when he  had the chance.

Dealing with divisive issues is part of American history. For Lincoln there was no repeal and replace.  It was preserve the Union.

The Civil War put to rest the concept that states can nullify federal law or can withdraw from the United States. It  also was the starting gun for the diverse economy that was to develop in the post war era as railroads linked the country. The diversity of the population continued to change as people from as far away as China and Scandinavia were following the Irish and Germans to America and filling in the land between the coasts. Soon people from Eastern and Southern Europe and from the Americas would pour into the country.

It may be ironic, and just possible, that America’s  integrated diversity: economically and culturally, has softened out the rough differences of conservative or liberal; rural or urban; or whatever one’s religious beliefs might be, that keeps America as one despite attempts to separate and divide.

en.wikipedia
Pryor in later years — if you cannot beat ’em,  join ’em            en.wikipedia

Nobody is quite sure who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. Confederate lore has it that Edmund Ruffin, a 66 year-old  Virginia secessionist, yanked the lanyard that sent the first round down range after  Roger Pryor, a Virginia Congressmen, refused saying, “I could not fire the first gun of the war.”

 

Some say that Capt. George S. James of the South Carolina Artillery gave the order to fire but did not physically set the fuse that ended up destroying the South and killing a half-a-million Americans.

Ruffin was such a die-hard secessionist that he could not envision living in a post Civil War world with Yankees. On June 18, 1865 Ruffin wrote: “I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connection with the Yankee race.” He then committed suicide.

Ruffin had a strong dislike of Yankees.                            en.wikipedia

Pryor, on the other hand, became a Confederate brigadier general and moved to New York after the war where he practiced law and served  as a judge on the New York State Supreme Court.

As for James, he became a Lieutenant Colonel and was killed at Fox Gap on September 14, 1862 during Lee’s invasion into Maryland.

The shots fired at Fort Sumter just happened to be unloosed in April.  It is nothing against the month of April. All the “lost causes”  leading up to the Civil War were cast well before Ruffin, Pryor or Johnson stood on the parapets at 4 am looking out to Fort Sumter and debating who should have the honors of getting the shooting war started. Not only did the war start in April it basically ended in April with both Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston surrendering the main Confederate Armies.  Lee surrendered on April 9th and Lincoln was assassinated five days later.

Some web sites to visit:

http://moultrie.battlefieldsinmotion.com/Artillery-10inchMortars.html

http://www.civilwar.org/hallowed-ground-magazine/winter-2010/problem-in-charleston-harbor.html

http://www.ushistory.org/us/24c.asp

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=1860

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/george-sholter-james.html

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/sumter.htm

https://www.usconstitution.net/elections.html

http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/presidents-winning-without-popular-vote/

http://www.knowsouthernhistory.net/Biographies/Edmund_Ruffin/