The Mother of all Shutdowns

Romulus leads Rome to victory

So we endure another governmental calamity: the federal government shutting down. With our love for drama nothing sells better than doomsday stories.

Shutting the government down is nothing new. At the beginning of the 5th Century BC Rome’s under class, the plebeians,  decided they had enough of upper class, patrician rule. They simply stomped out of Rome setting up a possible doomsday scenario.

The plebeians pitched camp on the Sacred Mount demanding that their rights and interests be addressed.  Since plebeians made up most of the soldiers in the Roman Army at the time, and since the expanding Roman city-state was constantly at war with one of its neighbors, the plebeians figured it was a good time to initiate negotiations in what could easily be called the first pre-union, sit-down strike in history. Oh, and it left Rome some-what defenseless.  Always a good bargaining chip to play in the art of the deal.

It would be a far stretch to call this the first socialist demonstration but the march out of Rome started a 200 year Struggle of Orders or the Conflict of Orders.  It  was the classic rich, noble, land-holding aristocrats versus the poor workers and farmers that also included a few non-noble well off citizens in the plebeian fold. Like most privileged-ruling elites throughout history, Roman patricians controlled most of the wealth and simply closed governmental doors behind them once they overthrew and consolidated power from the Etruscan kings who once ruled over them.

We have no Etruscan kings to overthrow.  In fact, historians are not sure what really happened to the Etruscans after the Romans wrestled control from them.  Just like the past, though, we do  have a burgeoning group of (patrician) billionaires with “charitable” trust funds that have put a firm down payment on our republic. And, although they may not shut the government down per say, their sponsored-elected elites have no problem pulling the power plug for them. This allows them to avoid the embarrassment of stomping across the Potomac like a bunch of demonic minions cast out the promised land.

Government shut downs are not new. They do seem to happen more often.  Shut downs occurred in Gerald Ford’s and Jimmy Carter’s administrations in the 1970’s and again in the ’80s  during Ronald Reagan’s administration; and twice under Clinton and once under Obama.

This does not include the numerous primate-like chest thumping rituals  the two parties  demonstrate across the aisle at one an other. Each side threatening to let the banana bunch in the middle rot so nobody gets any bananas. This lopsided-logic that a bunch of rotten bananas is worth more than one good banana is baboon backwards. And then when the media gets into the swing of things the treetop chatter soon becomes a blame game of he-said, she-said, “what about…”  and “I know you are but what am I…” in an ever spiraling drama filled-debate to sell a story and keep everybody agitated.

Caesar crossing the Rubicon The beginning of the end to the Republic?

Now most of us have heard about the fall of the Roman Empire but not so much about the fall of the Roman Republic.  The Roman Empire got started during the 1st Century BCE. It was teetering when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River after being in Gaul. His return to Rome created a free for all civil war on who would control Rome.  Shortly there after, and for all practical purposes, Rome’s government shut down as various factions fought it out not with ballots but armies.

We are all familiar with Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE.  Two of Caesar’s stanch allies, Mark Antony and Octavian, vindicated his death and defeated Caesar’s assassins:  Brutus  and associates. Mark Antony and Octavian then divided the former Republic between them.  But two men with  grand imperial plans soon proved that greed gets the better of any governmental agreements.  It was to be a short-lived arrangement and could be argued a pre-imperial shut down. Octavian later defeated Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BCE to become sole ruler of the newly-founded empire.  The Roman Senate then made him princeps or “first citizen” and gave him the name Augustus. After nearly a century of civil wars the Republic was dead.

The Age of Augustus and the Birth of Christ And the death of the Repbulic

The Republic, however, began in 509 BCE when the Romans over threw of the Etruscan kings who had ruled over them for hundreds of years. Once free of the Etruscans, the Romans established a republic. One institution that carried over from the overthrow was the Senate.  This appointed body of 100 well-heeled advisers to the king was soon to be expanded to 300 of Rome’s noblest and wealthiest men.

One thing that did not carry over was a codified system of written law.  This is not to say that these patricians of the Republic were not civic or legally minded; it was more about their interest in maintaining their social position, wealth and prestige in the new republic the than putting  something legal in writing.

As Rome expanded and defeated other near-by enemies, it began creating new cities and a complex society.  Rome’s influence was growing beyond the Tiber River. Security was a prime concern as Rome had to continually defend itself against the various tribes and Gauls that would attack and plunder Rome. The security of the Republic fell on the shoulders of the farmer/soldier — the plebeian.

One vexing problem to the citizen soldier was debts.  It was not uncommon for plebeians to lose everything, including their freedom, from debt accrued while serving in the army defending the Republic. Since the Roman army at this time was made up of mostly farmers, and since Rome was at war most of this time, soldiers were not around to bring in a crop.  Also, Rome’s  invading  and marauding enemies could lay waste to soldiers’ farms putting them further in debt.

These continued wars meant that a farmer could be called into service at any time. Not only was this farmer still responsible for paying his taxes, he was also responsible for his military kit: weapons, armors etc.  Eventually these citizen-farmer/soldiers fell further into debt.  The debt left him with only one asset: his person as collateral for his debt.

There were several options open to the creditor.  However, there was very little wiggle room for the defender of Rome who now found himself in debt to his patrician overlord. The insolvent soldier could find himself without his farm, in prison, flogged or as a patrician’s indentured servant working off his debt.

Rome’s military success also brought in more public land for the growing Republic.  The problem was that these newly acquired large tracts of lands were often rented out to the wealthy patricians and not to the debt-ridden farmer/soldier. The classic scenario of the rich get richer simply because they can.

Another consequence of  Republic’s military success  was immigration. With less land available more people began to crowd into Rome increasing the urban populations. Despite the increase in the plebeian population, they were still under represented in government. The were also out voted at the polls. Roman voting was broken down in an electoral-like tiered-class structure that was heavily skewed in favor of the patrician classes with the plebeians voting last.  With majority rule it was not uncommon for the election to be decided well before the plebeians even had a chance to vote.

Laws posted on the Twelve Tables in Rome.

Eventually the plebeians were able to convince the patricians to give them government representation in the newly created office of tribune.  Tribunes had had veto power over laws. Rome also established the Twelve Tables in 450 BCE. On these tables laws and procedures were written down for all to read creating a “rule of law.”  It was the beginning of codifying Roman laws much like Hammurabi’s codes.

Unlike the plebeians march out of Rome 2,500 years ago, our governmental shut downs   are political grand stand events. It is the play of recalcitrant politicians fighting to get 15 minutes of stage time. The shut down quickly ends out of fear that maybe the plebes will realize  that we  do not need a group of spoiled patricians prancing around trying to fix some self-created government crisis.

 

https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/plebeians-win-victory-rule-law-ancient-rome-449-bce-see-also-494-campaign

https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=4440&context=ndlr

http://sites.psu.edu/struggleoftheorders/

http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/orders.html

http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/12tables.htm

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/twelve_tables.asp

http://news.gallup.com/poll/218984/congress-approval-remains-september.aspx?g_source=Politics&g_medium=newsfeed&g_campaign=tiles

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-05-18/79-members-congress-have-been-office-least-20-years

 

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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

Money Wall

 

lascar_the_great_wall_of_china_4475570857
There are no figures for the unemployment rate during the Great Wall’s construction.

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.

mexican_cession
Manifest Destiny fulfilled.

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.

hadrins-wall
Hadrian’s wall now is a great walking path.

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.

When it was first built the Berlin Wall was not tourist friendly

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.

topographie_de_la_terreur_berlin_6329720680
Fascists viewing the 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.

coolidge_after_signing_indian_treaty
Silent Cal smiling away.

 

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.

Websites to check out

http://www.reference.com

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hadrians-wall/history/

http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall

http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-famous-border-walls

https://10mosttoday.com/10-most-famous-walls-in-the-world/

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/09/this-is-what-trumps-border-wall-could-cost-us.html