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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On March 6, 1857 the Supreme Court made what is undoubtedly the worst decision in the history of the court.
In a 7-2 decision, the court, with four slave-holding judges, ruled that a slave taken from a slave state into a free state does not make that slave free. The Court’s ruling also undid all of the previous Congressional compromises that attempted to control the spread of slavery saying those compromises were unconstitutional.
In America we can equate freedom with liberty, and rights with citizenship, and the right to vote as the holy sacrament of citizenship. A quick review of American history will show that America has been dealing with some aspect of citizenship (and voting) from the time a group of erudite revolutionaries sat down in Philadelphia to scrap the short-lived and inefficient Articles of Confederation to our very present time of illegal residents, refugees at the gates and radicalism within our borders.
Prior to devising a new government the Framers dealt with overthrowing the most powerful potentate of the time, so when it came to crafting a new constitution it was all about keeping monarchical tyranny at bay. They were more concerned with Spaniards radicalizing slaves to run off to Spanish Florida than thinking about who would be crossing the Mississippi River border or who would become a subversive citizen.
At first there was no real debate about citizenry: white property-owning males were full-blown citizens with voting rights. Everybody else was subject to some sort of restrictions. For instance, Blacks were on one end spectrum as slaves without rights; women were somewhere in the middle as non-voting citizens with possible property rights; Native Americans were treated as hostile land owners without property rights.
It took the Framers of the Constitution only four paragraphs into the Constitution to create a controversy that would last decades and would take a Civil War to settle. In Article I, Section 2 the Framers started to hammer out a a taxation and representation compromise. A revolution was fought over those fighting words.
Right off the bat we are hit with the whopper of all compromises — our original sin as a country. In the Declaration of Independence we blamed slavery on the king of England. But in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia there was no king to blame. The sin was so flagrantly against our founding “Lockeian” principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of property and so defining, that the Framers would not call it what it was: Slavery.
This compromise is interesting because it is based on regional differences that divided the country as well as economic profits from the slave trade and exports of slave-labor-produced goods that united the country. There was no way to get around it. They were hoisted up on their own Revolutionary rhetoric. Now they had to figure out how a country dealing with progressive ideas on representation and taxation could get a government to politically work in a nation with half of the country using a business plan based on economics from the times of the Pharaohs.
Not having a crystal ball and dealing with their own prejudices at the time the Framers settled the matter by basing representation and taxation with a fractional counting compromise. The Framers started with a whole, then subtracted, and then reduced it.
Taxation with representation would sum up on “the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons. The “Indians not taxed” must be parenthetical that was thrown in at the last moment when somebody asked, “What about the last of the Mohicans?” Indians not being property and hence not taxed-taxed would be excluded.
So basically at the start of the new government there were five types of native-born Americans: Free Persons; those bound to Service for a Term of Years, usually life; non-taxed Indians; women and free Blacks. This leads to the question what is a taxable Indian.
As far as voting was concerned that was left up to the individual state to determine who could and could not vote.
Well-intentioned people with a plan using twisted logic can be just as dangerous as somebody with no plan. The plan may seem sound at the time but ends up creating a timed-coil spring ready to fly out of its box like bees in a kicked-over hive.
All three branches of our government have dealt with who is a citizen from time-to-time. The Constitution gives Congress the power “To establish uniform Rule(s) of Naturalization.” Congress first exercised this power during the French Reign of Terror with the Alien and Sedition Act that extended the number of years a person had to be a resident before becoming a citizen. But when there is a void in one branch of government (unless one branch happens to be Congress) another branch of government will be glad to step in and kick the hive over.
By the mid 1850s Kansas was bleeding in a precursor to the Civil War and the Supreme Court took its turn to kick the hive in Dred Scott v Sandford decision. After numerous Congressional compromises starting with the Missouri Compromise on how to keep the Three-Fifths Compromise intact and in control of the ever expanding country and slavery, the Supreme Court said the Constitution gives slaves absolutely no rights and hence Congress has no authority to control slavery.
In fact Chief Justice Roger B Taney went so far as to say that if anything, the 5th Amendment protects those that own slaves by saying, “no person … (shall) be deprived of life liberty, or property without due process of the law…” Not the slaves’ life, liberty or property but the owners. Slaves were bought and sold and as far as Taney was concerned “they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
It took a Civil War to free slaves and the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 to make them citizens. The “right to vote” would come in 1870.
Through the years the Federal government has expanded citizens’ rights. African Americans still needed the Civil Rights Movement to see that their natural born rights of life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness were enforced. Women have always struggled as second class citizens. Congress passed the 19th Amendment and on August 18, 1920 women were given the right to vote along with their citizenship. After nearly a decade of fighting in Vietnam, 18 year-old draftees secured the right to vote for all 18 year olds when Congress passed the 26th Amendment in 1971.
And what about the non-taxed Indians? Finally, after being chased clear across the continent, Native Americans finally received due process. It would take the Indian Citizen Act passed on June 2, 1924 to make them citizens and “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. Native Americans might argue, with some success, that they were always subjected to the jurisdiction of the United States (particularly the Army) and usually at the end of gun barrel. Native Americans might be citizens but some states up until 1957 refused them the right to vote. I am sure this was just a mere technicality, a parenthetical, that was somehow over looked.
So who is next up for expanded citizenship? How about corporations. In the “Bizarro World” of jurisprudence and so-called activist judges, corporations have been getting more and more individual rights, despite not being mentioned in the Constitution. It seems a non-human corporation would fall more under John Locke’s definition as “property.”
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United vs The FEC, corporations got a whopper of a deal. Although they were not given the right to vote they got something more valuable: the unlimited First Amendment right to buy speech to influence the vote.
Corporations have always had certain legal rights to guide their boards and investors. But this ruling gives the non-human corporations the personal right of free speech. The court once again used twisted logic saying that money is free speech. Money by its very nature, is never free.
The court ruled that not only is speech protected but so is the speaker even if that speaker is not human. So what about the penniless barking dog next door?
Like Taney’s ruling dismissing Congressional compromises, The Citizens United ruling did away with all campaign reforms dating back to 1907. This allows corporations and unions to contribute (buy) as much (free speech) as they want and spend it on political campaigns. The logic says the more money available to the speaker the more free speech that speaker has, which does not make sense politically or economically. If speech is free why does a corporation need unlimited amount of money to buy more speech? Money is the kissing cousin to just about everything good or bad. It’s the coiled spring in the box.
With this ruling corporations will never need the right to vote so long as money equals free speech.
There has been recent talk about fulfilling a campaign promise to build a wall protecting the 2,000 mile border between the United States and Mexico from mass immigration and terrorists. A big part of the argument is who will pay for it. It has been suggested that Mexico put up the pesos for the wall.
Oddly enough it was this month in 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the peace Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican War. Part of the treaty gave Mexico $15 million and the U.S. got its Manifest Destiny “from sea to shining sea” fulfilled.
The U.S. took parts of or all of the present day states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. Ironically, it was same year that gold was discovered in California that set the ‘49s off on the same quest for Eldorado that had the first Spanish Conquistadors two centuries earlier tramping about the Southwest in search of the lost city of gold.
The treaty basically set the borders of the two countries and set up terms of trade and commerce along the new border. It also allowed Mexicans in the newly acquired territories to remain in what is now the United States. Within a year these Mexicans would become citizens. Of course that was 169 years ago.
This campaign-inspired 2,000 mile wall would be the most ambitious under taking of constructing a wall since the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, ordered nearly 300,000 soldiers, peasants and convicts to begin building the 3,000 mile wall known as The Great Wall. The Great Wall was started around 220 BCE and it would be safe to say this was not a jobs project despite the longevity. It took centuries to complete, rebuild and maintain. The wall was intended to keep back invading hordes. Later it was to protect trade and commerce along the Silk Road. It is believed that 400,000 people died building the wall and according reference.com to this centuries-long construction project set the Chinese back about $360 billion. Now, China is cashing. The wall is a tourist destination with more than 10 million visitors a year.
Another tourist destination is on the other side of the Earth is in England: Hadrian’s Wall. Roman Emperor Hadrian came to the outer most reaches of the empire in Britannia in 122 AD. And again it was to keep the uncivilized rabble out. He decided that a wall was needed to keep Britannia barbarians at bay.
Although not as ambitions as the Great Wall, this 73 mile wall runs from sea-to-sea and was designed in efficient Roman style. Roman military engineers and soldiers of three legions systematically placed gates, mile castles, observation points and forts along the wall to allow rapid deployment of troops.
It took 14 years to build the wall. It is probably safe to say this was not a jobs project any more than the Great Wall Romans had no problem putting conquered people to work. Hadrian’s Wall was one of the biggest building projects undertaken up by the Romans. That is saying a lot because the Romans were not shy about civil engineering, or the use of slave labor for infrastructure projects like aqueducts and roads, public baths and sewer systems. Today tourist can take a 10 day walking tour along the paths trodden by legionaries and barbarians alike.
Historians have debated how successful these walls were in keeping people out. But if a wall keeps people out the converse is true. East Germany, under Soviet Union’s control, saw the exodus of nearly 3 million people from 1949 to 1961 into West Germany. In June of 1961 19,000 people left East Germany through un-walled portions of West Berlin. On August 12, 2,400 people, the most ever to leave in a single day crossed over to West Berlin.
The East Germans had had enough of this mass exodus. On August 13, East German soldiers, policemen and “volunteer” construction workers began sealing off the two halves of Berlin with barbed wire and concrete block walls. It only took the Germans two weeks to get the make-shift wall up. By 1980 there would be 90 miles of walls with, electric fences, and barbed wire and watch towers splitting the two Berlins and surrounding West Berlin. According to CNBC this splitting cost $25 million or $200 million adjusted for inflation. Today, ten to twenty million people annually visit Berlin, and no doubt a few stop off to see sections of what is left of the Berlin Wall.
East Germany said the wall was designed to keep the fascist West out.Official figures list 139 people were killed trying to cross the wall. There is no record of a West Berliner climbing over the wall to get into East Germany. The grim reality was to keep East Germans in.
Walls by their very nature attract people. When these walls were built they were not designed to attract tourist but were built with a military purpose to keep people out. When it comes to building “The Wall” on our Southern Border maybe we should skip the security aspect of “The Wall” and go right to the tourist attractions.
Instead, make it a “jobs” project. At a recent press conference President Donald Trump said he was going to be the “greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” Creating “The Wall” could send tens of thousands of unemployed and underemployed Americans to the border for jobs. Politician from California to Texas and then some could join the president in boasting about how many new jobs they have created.
But jobs are just the beginning. It seems apropos that a real estate mogul, a builder of sky scrapers, golf courses and casinos would propose building a 2,000 mile wall. A recent estimate is it will cost more than $21 billion dollars to build and take at least four years to complete. A simple solution to defer some of the cost is to privatize “The Wall.” Instead of strategically placed forts let developers and corporations bid to build casinos, spas, amusement parks and golf course that could attract international tourists.
Companies could lease out sections of wall plastered with their logos much like cities do with football and baseball stadiums. Wall artists could buy sections and paint “The Wall.” There could be Mexican Wall Marathons. Hollywood could use sections of “The Wall” for outdoor theater openings for movies. There are endless possibilities. Building “The Wall” creates jobs and could be a prefect public/private partnership that could be profitable for everybody — even Mexico.
We should all remember the words of our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge: “The business of America is business.” No country in the world does business better then US.
Mark Twain, an American storyteller, journalist, essayist and pundit said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” According to the American Press Institute, “Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience.”
The recent presidential campaign has been nothing but engaging audiences with good stories. What could be more engaging than debating that size matters. The campaign started out debating the size of a candidate’s hand all the while alluding to his manliness. It would not be unseemly then to begin the new presidency with a debate on the size of an inauguration crowd. The question most Americans really want to know is: So now who has the bigger crowd? This time there is no debate — we have pictures!
The media says not so big. Others say it was huge. Never let a few facts get in the way (even if its thirty or forty thousand people). It is obvious that the president’s press secretary is not concerned. He said “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” And a new term is buzzing around: alternative facts.
Uh? The English Oxford Living Dictionaries say a fact is “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” Gravity is a fact: What goes up must come down. There is no gray area between the leap and sudden impact to be debated.
Maybe the alternative fact is the speed at which an object falls. The speed of a falling object can depend on the rotation of the Earth, the mass of the object and altitude. Maybe there is an Equatorial Bulge factor to consider when estimating the size of a crowd in Washington D.C. on a particular day that can skew the numbers.
However, using the logic that it is possible to debate the speed of a falling man, while he is falling, one might be able to agree then that something that is blatantly false or untrue is not necessarily a lie. But at what point does a falsity become a lie? And if it becomes a lie then what kind of lie is it? Is it one of omission or commission? Is it a little white lie or a bold face lie? And then it comes down to who is telling the lie and even the intent of the lie. Is it coming from your investment broker on the merits of your investment portfolio? Is the lie coming from a goal oriented sociopathic liar; a compulsive liar who lies out of habit; or the twice-bitten husband telling his wife her hair looks good?
And then there is the “big lie. The whopper that no one questions because it has just enough plausibility, embarrassment and is so outrageous that it has to be true: like NASA faked all the moon landings and they were a Disney production shot on a Hollywood back lot with a young George Lucas watching.
Nazi Germany knew something about lies, particularly the “Big Lie.” Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for public enlightenment and propaganda wrote:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
The Economist says the world has “entered an era of ‘post-truth politics’.” Maybe we have moved back to schoolyard days of “liar, liar pants are on fire, nose is long as a telephone wire.” But then who uses a land line anymore.
According to The Economist, “There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts.” With new technology, social media, fake news and false assertions now fly through cyber space at warp speed. Today there are fewer traditional editors and gatekeepers available to verify and fact check the onslaught of information. We live in a time when any tweeter or wiki-leaker can set thousands of pants on fire with the simple word “send.”
It is much easier for lie to be tweeted than spoken face-to-face. Words lack the changing and shifting body language, the lack of eye contact, the beads of sweat on the forehead or the change in pitch of the voice as those words are spoken.
With an untrusting public being bombarded with facts and fiction The Economist says, “some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.”
The lunatic fringe has always been out there. They have been like a pack of ravenous wolves circling the herd. Now they are attacking at the core of truth. The fringes are now among the herd and have turned opinion into fact and feelings into reason. Once the fringe runs down the truth; the truth can then be separated into alternative facts and disseminated for mass consumption.
Winston Churchill, as the war-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, knew something about dealing with the “big liars” of World War II. He said: The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
When it comes to the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic Party the question is not did the Russians hack the Democratic Party during the election. The real question is more why wouldn’t they hack.
Disrupting elections is an American tradition. Why have states been babbling on about voter fraud and passing laws for tougher voter identification? Candidates and their backers have been trying to game the outcome of elections in this country since the first wagon loaded with barrels of hard apple cider was served up gratis for showing up at the polls. There was nothing wrong with Election Day liquor so long as it was not served up by a foreign power.
In the 1840s Baltimore political gangs took election canvassing to newer heights that went beyond stealing election ballots, bribing judges and outright voter intimidation. There was the practice called “cooping.” “Potential voters” were swept up and steered to a local tavern where they were sequestered and plied with booze until Election Day. Then they were paraded from one polling place to another polling place to vote. In some cases the inebriated sots where taken back for a quick change of clothes as a change of identity so they could vote again thus giving true meaning to voting early and often.
There has been speculation that the mysterious death of America’s first detective writer, Edgar Allan Poe, was shrouded in such voter fraud. Four days before his death Poe was found on Election Day, in what was believed to be a drunken state, outside of Ryan’s 4th Ward Poll watering hole, a tavern known as Gunner’s Hall. Some Poephiles believe Poe, who was already in poor health, was dragooned into one of these gang-related Election Day cooping efforts. Once he had fulfilled his civic duty he was cast out on to the street. But these efforts, although coordinated to affect the election’s outcome, were not perpetuated through a foreign power.
Most American high-schoolers are familiar with the New York City machine The Tweed Ring. William Tweed managed to take control of New York City politics. It was estimated in 1877 that Tweed had stolen between $25 million to $45 million from New York City. The “Boss” ran a Big City Machine that controlled the loyalty of the voters through graft, jobs, and city projects.
Just about every big city has had some sort of machine. Kansas City had Thomas Pendergast. Pendergast was the Chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party. In the latter half of 1920s and through the ‘30s he was able to get friendly politicians elected to office. In fact one friend made it as far as the US Senate and then on to the Oval Office: Harry Truman. Before his ascent to the presidency Truman was known as the Senator from the State of Pendergast. But both Tweed and Pendergast’s penchant for skirting the law led to convictions. Tweed was convicted on 204 counts of corruption and Pendergast for income tax evasion. Both served time.
In more recent times we can see that the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton was close. Clinton received around two million more popular votes than her opponent. However, her margin of popular vote was a Whopper with fries compared to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 victory. Richard Nixon lost the popular vote to John Kennedy by a .17% margin or just fewer than 114,000 votes. In most states the margins were as thick as a spider’s web. After the election there was speculation that the Cook Country Democratic boss, Richard Daley, served up the presidency to Kennedy with an overwhelming Democratic vote tally.
Does the name Donald Segretti ring a bell, probably not? He was one of many of President Richard Nixon’s dirty tricksters – or a ratfucker. In a time before hacking and the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook and email, dirty tricksters would use the letter heads of political opponents. Once the letter head was acquired then fraudulent statements or “fake news” could be circulated. There were various fake letters circulated from one Democrat accusing another Democratic candidate of having sexual affairs and children with teenagers to being mentally unbalanced. This was just the beginning of the Watergate scandal that would soon turn the word “gate” into a suffix for any major scandal. Most recently Deflategate where New England Patriot quarterback was accused of tampering with the air pressure in footballs used in a championship game.
The most famous of these letters was the Canuck Letter. This was a forged letter from the Nixon Campaign that appeared in the Manchester Union Leader newspaper two weeks before the New Hampshire presidential primary election. The letter attributed disparaging remarks about French-Canadians to Democratic candidate Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. The letter and the ensuing events, with Muskie accused of crying during a speech before the Manchester Union Leader building in a driving snow storm, led some to believe that the letter sunk Muskie’s hopes for a run for the presidency in 1972.
There was at least one time when foreign diplomats openly tried to influence American public opinion. It was in the turbulent times of the new republic after the Revolutionary War. Events in France led to the Reign of Terror and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife. Before long the newly formed French Republic was at war with every European
monarchy – and urging its fellow republic, the United States, to join in. France, using the 1778 Treaty of Alliance as leverage, tried to enlist American support for France’s war against Great Britain. French diplomats like Edmond Genet and Pierre Adet began to outfit privateers in American ports to attack British shipping. They tried to enlist Americans to their cause to invade Spanish territories and even possibly Canada.
Prior to the 1796 election Adet wrote several letters trying to influence public opinion. In one letter he indicated that if Thomas Jefferson was not elected president there could be war with France. He also leaked terms of the recently negotiated Jay treaty with Great Britain that was up for ratification in the Senate and tried to influence the Senate’s vote. In one letter Adet said that this treaty indicated that America was no longer a neutral country.
President Washington was trying to guide the young country to neutral waters despite the strong sentiments for France, particularly among members of Jefferson’s newly founded Republican Party. This was a time of sharp partisan politics as Federalists and Alexander Hamilton leaned towards England. The two parties clashed in Congress over many issues.
Despite Adet’s meddling, John Adams won the 1796 election and America eventually fought an undeclared war called the Quasi War with France. It was also a time when Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act gave the government new powers to deport foreigners. It also increased the residency requirements. Immigrants were eligible to vote after five years of residency but the new law increased residency for new immigrants to 14 years.
The Sedition Act was aimed more at budding growth of partisan newspapers, particularly Republican newspapers. The Act basically prohibited public opposition to the government. Those who “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government could and did face fines and imprisonment. More than 20 Republican editors of newspapers were arrested with some being jailed. The law was later repealed during Jefferson’s first administration.
Getting back to Russian hacking, why not? American elections are an invitation for influence peddling and meddling, mudslinging, and misstatements. Now some 400 pound man in New Jersey can affect the presidency from his bed, only getting up for a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.
In the highly charged campaign-election atmosphere, Donald Trump promised to drain the D.C. swamp — starting with Hillary Clinton. His supporters chanted throughout the campaign to “lock her up,” which sounds better than “ostracize her!”
The tone in the transition period, however, has changed dramatically from assigning a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s improprieties from Trump’s first day in office to more of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address were Lincoln advocated “malice towards none, with charity to all.” President-elect Trump must have been channeling Lincoln, a president who presided over a severely divide country, when he said: “I don’t want to hurt the Clinton’s, I really don’t, she went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”
With that said, and since we are in what appears to be a wave of populism, there is one way to drain the D.C. swamp without legal prosecution but through the ancient Greek practice of ostracizing those who may have stepped out of favor with the voting public.
The Athenians practice ostracizing their leaders on an annual basis. The Greeks often sent off some of their most illustrious leaders into 10 years of exile. In fact, Themistocles, the chief advocate and designer of Athenian naval power, who defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, was sent into exile. Despite his forward thinking in preparing Athens for the upcoming struggles with the Persian Empire, he did not survive accusations of “bribery, sacrilege, and a suspicious association with a Spartan traitor.”
In the 1770s Boston was a hotbed of democratic “populism.” It was not an unusual sight to see a Sons of Liberty inspired-crowd put the hot tar to some poor British official. After being administering the feathers, the misguided official was then regally escorted out of town on a rail. Once the Revolutionary War started, many “loyal” colonists opted for self-exile rather remain unfaithful to their king and face the possibility of mob reprisals.
The Sons of Liberty knew a thing or two about putting democracy into action. A mob can be a beautiful thing if it is controlled but, in the wrong hands extreme mischief can spiral into anarchy as when angry Massachusetts’ farmers decided to close down the courts to keep the state from reposing their property for back taxes. When their attempt failed, one of the chief instigators, Daniel Shays, chose voluntary exile when he fled to Vermont to avoid prosecution.
These pre and post-Revolutionary War experience in inciting the people, and dealing with tyrannical Royal governors, must have given the framers some disconcerting thoughts when it came time to amend the Article of Confederation. Instead of amending a loose confederation of states they decided to create a tighter federation of states. They created a hybrid form of government splitting governmental power between a central government and states and putting various political philosophies that incorporated checks and balances, separation of powers, (specifically in creating a separate judicial system) and a Bill of Rights into a Constitution that protected the people and the powers to be from each other.
The framers of our Constitution borrowed liberally from past political thinkers from Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu; but sending citizens deemed undesirable into exile was not incorporated into the Constitution. The framers also understood the difficulties the Greeks had in keeping a pure democracy from turning into a tyranny and they no doubt understand the slow fade that took the Romans from a republic to an empire ruled by a soon to be gods.
During the Civil War Clement Laird Vallandigham, a former Congressman from Ohio and an anti-war Democrat, who some believed was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, was banished to the Confederacy. In the opening months of 1863 when the Civil War still hung in the balance, the Union Army issued General Order 38. The order curbed the right to express anti-government sentiments or to convey sympathy for the enemy.
Vallandigham, being the good Copperhead spoke out against Lincoln and the war in a Columbus, Ohio speech. Union General Ambrose E. Burnside promptly had him arrested, tried by a military court, convicted and sentenced to two years in a military prison all the while avoiding a civil trial. Lincoln however, showing some charity for Vallandigham, commuted the sentence and exiled the former Ohio Congressman to the Confederacy.
The Southerners were probably no more interested in having him around sent him off to Bermuda. From there Vallandigham made his way Canada and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio from Canada. Vallandigham eventually crossed the border and returned to Ohio. He returned after Lincoln had won the 1864 election. Lincoln, however, ignored his return and deemed Vallandigham’s pro South rhetoric and activities no longer a nuisance as Union armies began surrounding Richmond.
Lincoln was dealing with a divided country that some would say was in open rebellion. Others might say they were defending their rights and homes from an over reaching federal government.
Most Americans who choose to go into exile do so to avoid criminal prosecution. After falling out of favor for killing Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr slithered out West to look for new empires to create. His activities there ran him afoul with the Jefferson Administration. Burr was later arrested and brought back East and tried for treason and found innocent. He later fled to Europe to avoid creditors. Some may say Davy Crockett went off into self-exile after losing his election for Congress by saying, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”
A modern day financial flight to exile was millionaire financier and Richard Nixon supporter, Robert Vesco, who some have said was the “the undisputed king of the fugitive financiers.” He fled the United States in 1973 for Costa Rica and eventually died in Cuba. A more familiar flight from justice is Edward Snowden the Booz Allen NSA subcontractor who leaked secret NSA surveillance documents to the press. He has made Russia his home.
Lost elections, criminal charges and convictions might be one way to encourage certain evasive creatures to leave the quagmire of D.C. But any attempt to drain the D.C. Swamp of certain entrenched reptiles may be as futile as trying to lure escaped pythons and boa constrictors to leave the Everglades.
There is a certain amount of comfort in the consistency of life as we know it; or in some case refuse to understand it. We take it for granted that the sun will rise in the East every morning; that the swallows will return to Capistrano; that Halley’s Comet will be whipping into view in 2061; and that some political party will spiral down into stupidity.
In the late 1850s the Whig party began to disintegrate. Zachary Taylor was the last elected Whig president. However, when he died on July 9, 1850 the presidency passed to Millard Fillmore who has the honor to be the last Whig president.
There are several scientific maxims that can apply to social situations. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. It can be transformed into other states. In the case of the Whig party it disintegrated and started to morph into the American Republican Party, which quickly became an anti-immigrant party soon to be known as the Know Nothings. Although not all former Whigs found this party to their liking. Abraham Lincoln was one such Whig.
The American Republican Party was founded in New York in 1843 and was associated with a secret organization: The Order of the Star-Spangled Banner Society. Their not so secret response that members would give to identify each other was “I know nothing.”
It is easy to understand why it started in New York. More than 70 percent of country’s immigrants came into America through New York City’s Castle Garden depot or the “Golden Door.” Seven and-a-half- million immigrants came to America from 1820 to 1870. This influx was more than the entire population of the United States in 1810. One third of the immigrants came from Ireland and another third came from Germany. In most cases they were Catholics coming to Protestant country.
There may have been a real concern among nativists that besides taking jobs from the locals the Pope would be holding Mass in the Capitol. In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of Ireland immigrated to the United States.
There was some violence associated with the Know Nothings campaigns as nativists battled Irish immigrants. Catholic Churches and schools were burnt and at least 20 people were killed in one riot. The Know Nothings did have some local success and some members of Congress claimed they were affiliated with the Know Nothings.
However, one politician of the time did not join their ranks. In an 1855 letter to his good friend Joshua Speed Abraham Lincoln wrote: I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except Negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
The American Republican Party nominated none other than Millard Fillmore and Andrew Jackson’s nephew as their standard bearers for the 1856 presidential election and managed to carry Maryland in the general election. The party, like the country, fell apart in the face of slavery as abolitionist flocked to the newly formed Republican Party and pro-slavery men moved to the Democratic Party.
It may be that stupidly, like matter cannot be created or destroyed. This is a disheartening concept to think that there is an finite amount of stupidity that covers the Earth much like water. There also appears to be some logic to it all. Just like the swallows returning to Capistrano, stupidity too, is seasonal phenomenon. It cycles itself every four years peaking on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.