Browsing the archives for the American History category.


Killing the Goose, Dreaming the Dream

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American History

I have just a couple of quibbles about Digby’s otherwise excellent rant about the death of the American dream. One is that she doesn’t clarify that the American Dream was pretty much exclusively owned by white people until relatively recently. Here’s the other:

In a time when people feel they can’t keep up or are falling behind, it’s hard to have faith in the idea that everyone can achieve a base level of security and provide for their kids to do better than they did. That was always the deal for working-class Americans, immigrants and middle-class alike.

That may always have been the ideal, and it worked out for a lot of folks, but I’m not sure even most white people born in the U.S. in the 19th century thought of it as “the deal” and expected to achieve a greater degree of security than their parents. They may have reasonably hoped to, and a lot of them did, but the experience that made the dream an expectation was really what happened from the late 1930s until about 1972. Digby’s a boomer too, although I think slightly younger than I am, and white middle class boomers really did expect a financially secure and ever more affluent life, because that had been our parents’ experience and we saw no reason for it to stop. And for some of us that happened,and for some of us, it didn’t.

In the 19th century, the Dream was largely crafted from the Western Territories. If you were an ordinary white working-class shlub or farmer living in the East you probably were not going to improve your situation much, but you could always Go West. That didn’t always work out, but the possibility was always there and made life seem less desperate.

Also in the first half of the 20th century ordinary working people and farmers, white and black, often lived very meager lives in the U.S., but people ignored them. (My mother used to tell stories about her very white poor cousins who sharecropped watermelon in the Ozarks in the 1920s, whose standard of living probably wasn’t appreciably different from what their parents’ had been in the 1890s.) Large parts of the U.S. were sunk into terrible poverty during the “Roaring 20s” but we remember the Gatsby lifestyle, fueled largely by speculation and bubbles, because that’s what was recorded in the magazines and in films.

The New Deal, GI Bill and other great liberal 20th century programs that did things like improve working conditions and reduce black lung in coal miners really created the Middle Class that we think of today as the Middle Class. And just as we all got complacent and began to think this is the way things are always going to be, the malefactors of great wealth started to persuade some of us that everything would be so much better if we dismantled some of those awful government programs that got in the way of wealth creation. We didn’t remember that those awful government programs had made the Middle Class possible. We really have become people who got greedy and killed the goose who laid golden eggs.

As Digby points out, part of our problem is that today Democrats and Republicans conceptualize the American Dream very differently.  Democrats think in terms of a decent and secure standard of living; Republicans want to get rich. And what’s happening is that the more modest “dream,” which might be achievable for most people, is being sacrificed for the sake of the fantasy one.  And, ironically, data tell us that southern working-class whites, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, are the biggest losers here. But you can’t tell them that because guns, gays and God.

Reactionary “conservatism” has put us on a course that is not sustainable, and I honestly don’t see what’s going to change anything, especially with our corrupted election system. So there we are.

Update: See also Krugman

I’ve just reread a remarkable article titled “How top executives live,” originally published in Fortune in 1955 and reprinted a couple of years ago. It’s a portrait of America’s business elite two generations ago, and it turns out that the lives of an earlier generation’s elite were, indeed, far more restrained, more seemly if you like, than those of today’s Masters of the Universe.

“The executive’s home today,” the article tells us, “is likely to be unpretentious and relatively small — perhaps seven rooms and two and a half baths.” The top executive owns two cars and “gets along with one or two servants.” Life is restrained in other ways, too: “Extramarital relations in the top American business world are not important enough to discuss.” Actually, I’m sure there was plenty of hanky-panky, but people didn’t flaunt it. The elite of 1955 at least pretended to set a good example of responsible behavior.

But before you lament the decline in standards, there’s something you should know: In celebrating America’s sober, modest business elite, Fortune described this sobriety and modesty as something new. It contrasted the modest houses and motorboats of 1955 with the mansions and yachts of an earlier generation. And why had the elite moved away from the ostentation of the past? Because it could no longer afford to live that way. The large yacht, Fortune tells us, “has foundered in the sea of progressive taxation.”

Back to my premise, that from the last years of the Depression and until about 1972 — the point at which real wages for working American peaked and began to decline — the U.S. enjoyed the smallest degree of wealth inequality in its history. The rich were not so rich, and the poor were not so poor. A lot of factors killed this situation, but more than anything else “Reaganomics” has seen to it those conditions can never come back.

Update: See also “The most important chart about the American economy you’ll see this year”

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Why Dems Lose, Reason # 32

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American History, National Security, Republican Party

This is something I’ve written about at length before — somehow, since about 1950, the Republicans have claimed the mantle of being the “tough” and “effective” party on matters of crime and national security even though there is absolutely nothing in the historical record to show that the nation has been any more or less secure or crime free under Republican Administrations than Democratic ones.Yet this doesn’t seem to sink into voters.

Peter Beinert (yeah, I know, it’s Peter Beinert) writes that Dems are in trouble because the “security moms” are back, possibly alarmed by the thought that ISIS is smuggling Ebola-infested Guatemalan babies across the border. So, naturally, when people are afraid they turn to Republicans because … why, exactly?

Steve M. writes,

Look, I understand that President Obama failed to anticipate the rise of ISIS and failed to prevent the beheading of two Americans, but George W. Bush failed to prevent 9/11, and these “security moms” responded by voting for his party in 2002 and 2004.

As a New Yorker, I’m familiar with the domestic version of this. If you’re a liberal mayor — David Dinkins or Bill de Blasio — the public’s reaction to a crime wave or a horrific crime on your watch is to blame you. If you’re a conservative mayor — Rudy Giuliani or the all-but-Republican Ed Koch — the reaction is to rally around you, because you’re “tough on crime.” A horrible crime on a tough mayor’s watch is considered further evidence that we need precisely the tough guy’s policies.

The 9/11 issue is a particular sticking point with me, and not just because I was an eyewitness to what happened to the WTC. I still don’t think the American people are aware that the Clinton Administration really had been sizing up al Qaeda and taking steps to beef up security, and that as soon as the Bushies took over in 2001 they dismissed all that. They not only brushed off the recommendations of a Senate commission that predicted a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they actually stopped the Senate from acting on the recommendations. They downgraded the threat of a Qaeda. They adamantly ignored all the hair-on-fire warnings being given them by U.S. intelligence as well as the intelligence services of several other nations.

When these facts began to come out in 2002 it fueled trutherism, but the truthers continue to ignore several other obvious facts, including the fact that the attacks caught the Bushies absolutely flat-footed. It’s been well documented that after  President Bush left the elementary school, Air Force One spent the next two hours circling Florida while Dubya and Dick argued about what to do next (press were on board; some media actually reported on it). If they had known it was going to happen they would have been prepared with chest-thumping theater, instead of needing three days to pull something together. And if the Bushies had picked a target, no way would they have picked towers full of their people, the captains of finance. They would have found a bunch of regular working stiffs to be martyrs.

I say that if there were a God, any time somebody actually says “Bush kept us safe” a giant hand would reach out of the sky and smack them.

Let us also pause to reflect on Beirut 1983 and Benghazi 2012, and the very different ways Congress dealt with these foreign disasters.

Of course, it’s the same thing with the economy. Everybody Knows Republicans are better for the economy, except history says otherwise. That history guy is either really stupid or knows something the rest of America doesn’t.

Gary Hart wrote,

Reason and facts are sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Narrow minded opinion refuses to be subjected to thought and analysis. Too many now subject events to a prefabricated set of interpretations, usually provided by a biased media source. The myth is more comfortable than the often difficult search for truth.

It also doesn’t help us that it’s considered “smart” to assume “both parties are just as bad.” The Dems largely are a pack of mutts who get themselves outmaneuvered  way too often, and many of them owe their careers to being Repubican Lite. But no, on the whole, both parties are not just as bad.

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Who’s Really Responsible for the Toddler Invasion

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American History, Congress, Immigration, Obama Administration

Two articles to read together today — one is from the New York Times editorial board

The revised legislation sought to appease the hard-liners, who were insisting on swiftly expelling migrant children but also intent on killing the Obama administration’s program to halt the deportations of young immigrants known as Dreamers. Tea Party members believe, delusionally, that the program, called DACA, has some connection to the recent surge of child migrants, who would never qualify for it. On Friday night, the House passed a bill that dragged immigration reform so far to the right that it would never become law. …

…The Senate’s attempt to address the border crisis, meanwhile, is also dead — filibustered by Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who engineered the House revolt, was exultant. Nothing will happen there until September, if then.

Meanwhile, the border crisis is still a crisis and people are suffering. The Border Patrol and refugee programs will run short of money for aiding and processing traumatized children. Immigration courts will still be overloaded, due process will continue to be shortchanged or denied. Because House Republicans killed a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate more than a year ago, the larger immigration system, choked by obsolete laws, backlogs and bureaucratic breakdowns, still awaits repairs.

Again, it’s important to understand that the Right’s carping about “Dreamers” is a red herring straw man on steroids. The law they claim is responsible for the border crisis does not apply to people crossing the border after June 2012.  Meanwhile, the Right refuses to address the law that does apply, signed by President G.W. Bush, that says these children cannot be deported without a hearing. But Republicans in Congress refuse to provide money to help speed up the hearings; they want to ignore the law and just deport the children. And then they call President Obama a lawless tyrant.

The NY Times editorial is as good a capsule version of where we are with immigration as I’ve found.  Meanwhile, A.W. Gaffney explains who really is responsible for the instability in Central America that is driving so many to take refuge here.

But why is the region so underdeveloped, why is poverty so entrenched, and why has the colonial legacy of inequality proven so resistant to social and political change? Though the situation is admittedly complex, the dismal state of affairs in Central America is in no small part the result of the failure of social democratic and left-of-center governments to maintain power and enact socioeconomic change; this failure, in turn, is sadly (in part) the consequence of the ironic “success” of U.S. foreign policy.

A pattern of U.S. interference with the democratic processes in these Central American countries goes back at least to the 1930s and has continued nearly to the present day. In other words, the U.S. persistently has seen to it that popularly and democratically elected left-leaning leaders were replaced — violently, if necessary –by right-wing despots. And this has a whole lot to do with why these countries are dysfunctional now.

Looking at Congress today, one might argue the U.S. finally is doing to itself what it did to Guatemala — make it an ungovernable mess.  We don’t learn.

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Little Boys With Big Toys

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American History, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Today the war between self-appointed “militia” and the BLM continues with a protest of the closing (in 2007) of Recapture Canyon, Utah, to motorized vehicles. Today a bunch of spoiled brats with big senses of entitlement plan to ride around Recapture Canyon on ATVs in the name of “freedom.” The issue with the area is that it is full of archeological sites, including some nearly intact Pueblo dwellings, and the ATVs were smashing things, which is why the BLM made it off limits to ATVs. Here’s a video made in 2010 that shows what the area is like:

(Update: Saturday’s Illegal Cliven Bundy-Endorsed ATV Rally Runs Through Sacred American Indian Sites)

As soon as the BLM said people had to stop riding ATVs in Recapture Canyon, the Spoiled Brat Militia, also called the Little Boys With Big Toys, made riding ATVs in Recapture Canyon a Big Deal Cause. Never mind that Utah is this huge sparsely populated state with who knows how many trails to ride on; if they can’t ride through Recapture canyon and smash up artifacts at will they are being Oppressed.

A fellow who loves the canyon named Don Peacock wrote,

One immediate consequence of the illegal ATV event is the cancellation of a well-planned trip for veterans co-sponsored by the BLM and the Sierra Club. I was to be a partner in this invaluable veterans’ program and had intended to address the vets at Sand Island, 20 miles south of Blanding, on the day following the ATV trip. Many of the veterans are, like myself, disabled from combat, with service-related trauma both physical and psychic. Native American medicine men were to prepare sweat lodges, along with traditional healing ceremonies. Navaho war veterans, whose ancestors were forced off these lands and fought in great numbers in our country’s foreign battles, had planned to assist the veterans healing program. I was especially enthusiastic to participate in the vets program because of the Navajo and the quality of the leadership of both BLM and Sierra Club outreach personnel. One of them wrote this on April 24:

“Due to the potential risk of an illegal ATV ride on BLM lands conflicting with our Cedar Mesa trek, we are postponing the event until October of this year. While the spiritual side of the event could be affected by the ATV ride, there is also the potential safety risk to BLM staff and trip participants due to the recent hostile atmosphere in the West surrounding these events.”

This great healing event for veterans has been pushed aside by a few ATV advocates insistent on illegally riding their silly toys. What a missed opportunity.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Fed up with federal control over lands their families have used for generations, about 30 people on ATVs on Saturday drove into Recapture Canyon, a nearby trove of prehistoric sites the Bureau of Land Management closed to motorized use seven years ago.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, acting as a private citizen, organized the event, which started with a rally in Blanding’s Centennial Park, to protest what he and supporters call federal “overreach” into local jurisdiction. Prompting the protest is their anger with what they say is the BLM’s failure to process San Juan County’s applications for ATV rights-of-way in Recapture, which is filled with Native America prehistoric sites.

It’s federal land; there is no “local jurisdiction” and never has been. These guys are destroying things that belong to all of us.

… there was little sympathy from environmental, hunting and preservation groups, as well as tribal members, who claim an ancestral affiliation with the Native Americans who inhabited the canyon 1,000 years ago. Critics say ATV enthusiasts have themselves to blame for the closure by building an unauthorized trail over archaeological sites that harbors middens, kivas, farming plots and cooking areas.

Vehicle traffic accelerates erosion of intact deposits under the routes, which can help reveal how prehistoric people thrived in this arid landscape, but only if studied in proper scientific context, according to Jerry Spangler of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance.

“Damage to archaeological sites is permanent and the information about our collective past is then lost forever,” Spangler said. “It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor. It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

They don’t care about anybody but themselves and their “right” to ride around in noisy, smelly vehicles and ruin things for everyone else. Little boys with big toys.

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Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

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American History

A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for.”

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A New Reagan Myth?

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American History

I’ve seen the claim that Saint Ronald of Blessed Memory was opposed to military interventions crop up here and there, and I don’t believe I have heard this one until recently — Dave Weigel reports:

Robert Costa goes inside Rand Paul’s campaign to block a Syria resolution.

His team is eager to cast Paul as an heir to Ronald Reagan, who, they argue, was frequently reluctant to involve the U.S. military in foreign civil wars. “It’s about reclaiming the party from hawks and putting us back in the mode of Reagan,” says a Paul source. “As we do that, we want to help him, so we’re pushing back really hard against the isolationism chatter. That’s not what he’s about; he’s about non-intervention and the national interest.”

Waving the Reagan banner to make a case for realpolitik is, of course, totally consistent—Reagan would speak ringingly of human rights and in the next breath re-emphasize that the “human rights first” Carter strategy was a disaster.

That His Blessedness was opposed to interventions really is news to me, and not what I remember. There was, for example, that Libya thing that Saint Ronnie began in 1981 —

Libya refused to be a proper Middle East client state of Washington. Its leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, was uppity. He would have to be punished. U.S. planes shot down two Libyan planes in what Libya regarded as its air space. The U. S . also dropped bombs on the country, killing at least 40 people, including Qaddafi’s daughter. There were other attempts to assassinate the man, operations to overthrow him, a major disinformation campaign, economic sanctions, and blaming Libya for being behind the Pan Am 103 bombing without any good evidence.

Yeah, that’s what I remember. And then there was Lebanon — The U.S. was part of a multinational force formed in 1982 as “peacekeepers” in a civil war in Lebanon, so this wasn’t just a U.S. action. But as I recall Saint Ronnie was all gung ho about it until that little incident in 1983 when 241 American servicemen were killed in a barracks bombing. Kinda makes Benghazi seem like small potatoes, don’t it? Anyway, Saint Ronald lost his interest in Lebanon after that.

Then … on to Granada! Truly, that military action caused the American people to stand up and say, WTF?

And do we want to talk about Nicaragua and Reagan’s “freedom fighters,” the Contras? I’d call that an intervention by proxy.

This image of Ronald Reagan, Man of Peace and Restraint, seems at odds with the older view of him as the Great Serious Man with his hand on the nuclear trigger who scowled at the USSR and said, “Make my day.” Thereby bringing about the end of history, or something. I guess the real political genius of Reagan is that the Right can evoke his blessed name to bolster any position they want bolstered, even if it has nothing to do with what he actually did.

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Power of Music

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American History

I’m shamelessly copying what Anne Laurie did in a post this morning. But for some reason, this Joan Baez cover of a Woody Guthrie song has been running through my head the past few days, anyway —

The song is about a California plane crash that killed 28 Mexican farmworkers in 1948. The farmworkers were then buried in a mass grave without being identified. More than six decades later, a writer named Tim Z. Hernandez, partly inspired by the song, did a lot of detective work and identified the people in the grave. This week a large gravestone listing the names was placed on the grave, and the song was sung as part of the ceremony.

I’m sure this song was on a Joan Baez album I bought sometime in the 1970s, and I always liked it, but for some reason I never connected it to a real event. Anyway — Woody Guthrie was a great man. Just sayin’.

Here’s another version, with Arlo G. and Emmylou Harris.

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The Great March Plus 50

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American History

It’s been 50 years since the historic voters’ rights march in Washington.

Rep. John Lewis spoke 50 years ago, and he spoke again today.

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President Obama and a Poignant Anniversary

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American History, Obama Administration

The President made a powerful statement on race in America today. In the wake of the tragic Zimmerman verdict,

Mr. Obama eloquently rebutted those — like Republican Congressman Andy Harris with his dismissive “get over it” remark on Tuesday — who said that the verdict should have ended discussion of the case, especially talk about race and gun laws.

“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

He said there are “very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store” or “the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.”

“That,” he said, “includes me.”

The full transcript is here. See also Why Obama Decided To Speak Out On Race And The Zimmerman Verdict.

It so happens today is the 150th anniversary of the assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts regiment, which you might remember was portrayed in the film Glory a few years back. The 54th Massachusetts was the first African-American regiment organized in the North to fight for the Union. The 54th suffered nearly 45 percent casualties at Fort Wagner, but gained immortality.

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Vicksburg Is Liberated!

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American History

It’s the 150th anniversary of the resolution of the Vicksburg campaign. I only wish we could round up General Grant and the boys and send them to liberate some other places, like maybe Kansas.

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