Browsing the archives for the American History category.


The Lost Cause Is Losing

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American History, Republican Party

As political support for keeping Confederate flags flying over statehouses evaporates, and as even Wal-Mart has declared it will stop stocking Confederate flag merchandise (current inventory is moving at a brisk pace, though), the Moonlight and Magnolia bitter enders are filled with despair.

“This is the beginning of communism,” said Robert Lampley, who was standing in the blazing sun in front of the South Carolina State House shortly after the legislature voted overwhelmingly to debate the current placement of the Confederate battle flag. “The South is the last bastion of liberty and independence. I know we’re going to lose eventually.”

“Our people are dying off,” he went on, before encouraging a white reporter to “keep reproducing.”

They’re worried that some tidal wave will destroy Confederate monuments and force the re-naming of all the (Nathan Bedford) Forrest Avenues to Malcolm X Boulevards. Heh.

One guy suggested removing the Confederate flag from statehouses and replacing it with another flag associated with the Confederacy (there were several) but not associated with racist movements.

“You’re asking me to agree that my great-grandparent and great-great-grandparents were monsters,” said Greg Stewart, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the executive director of Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis.

No, we’re asking you to agree that your great-grandparent and great-great grandparents lost the freaking war and surrendered their flags to Gen. J. L. Chamberlain at Appomattox 150 years ago. The Lost Cause is really, truly lost. Try to adjust.

Some of them are complaining that the change is coming too fast. Too fast? It’s been 150 bleeping years.

Today the governor of Alabama ordered a Confederate flag be removed from state capitol grounds. Sen. Mitch McConnell requested that a statue of Jefferson Davis be removed from the Kentucky state capitol. Well, he’s still got most of a six-year term to serve; he probably feels safe. Governors of several states are requesting that Confederate specialty license plates be redesigned.

My guess is that these guys realized this was going to have to happen sooner or later, and they might as well do it now while they’ve got some political cover.

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Grant Versus Lee

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American History

Going back to Appomattox — Jamelle Bouie has an excellent article at Slate that I urge people to read. Bouie is spot-on correct in both his historical facts and his analysis of how we remember Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant the way we do.

From the end of the Civil War and through the rest of the 19th century, U.S. Grant was one of the most popular and respected figures in American life and history. According to many accounts, his death in 1885 threw the nation into the same depth of grief as had the death of Abraham Lincoln. People around the country donated money to build him a grand memorial tomb, and when it was dedicated in 1897 there was a huge parade and vast crowds of people turned out to pay their respects once again.

On the other hand, R. E. Lee’s generalship was more flawed than confederate apologists will ever admit. Some time back the British military historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote an analysis of the generalship of Grant and Lee, and Fuller found Lee highly overrated. In Fuller’s view Lee was second-rate in most regards. (Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship is still in print and is very readable. If you’re into military history I recommend it highly. See also Fuller’s The Generalship Of Ulysses S. Grant.)

But a few generations later, people remembered Grant as a stupid, drunken brute and Lee as nearly a saint. Bouie explains why and how that happened. Much of it has to do with Grant’s policies as President during Reconstruction, namely that he took equal rights for the freed people seriously and tried to protect them. Bouie writes,

As best as possible, President Grant was a firm leader of Reconstruction America. Faced with the titanic challenge of integrating freedmen into American politics, he attacked the problem with characteristic clarity and flexibility. He proposed civil rights legislation (and would be the last president to do so until Dwight D. Eisenhower, nearly a century later) and deployed troops to hot spots across the South, to defend black Americans from white supremacist violence.* And while there were failures—at times he was too passive in the face of white violence, too paralyzed by petty politics—there were real victories too. After Congress passed the Enforcement Acts—criminal codes that protected blacks’ 14thand 15th Amendment rights to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and receive equal protection of laws—Grant authorized federal troops to confront the Ku Klux Klan and other groups of anti-black terrorists. Declaring them “insurgents … in rebellion against the authority of the United States,” Grant and his subordinates—most notably Attorney General Amos Ackerman and the newly formed Department of Justice—broke the Klan and restored some peace to the Republican South.

In using federal power to prosecute white supremacists and support Reconstruction governments, Grant had tied his fortunes to those of freedmen and their allies. They were grateful. Grant won re-election in 1872 with the vast backing of black voters in the South, as well as former Union soldiers in the North. Appalled by his use of force in the South, his enemies dogged him as an enemy of liberty. Indeed, for as much as scandal plagued his administration, it’s also true that many cries of corruption came from angry and aggrieved Democrats, who attacked military intervention in the South as “corrupt” and “unjust.” Opponents in the North and South reviled Grant as a “tyrant” who imposed so-called “black domination” on an innocent South.

Unfortunately, in the early 20th century some confederate sympathizing historians got themselves into leading positions in American academia and saw to it that history as cranked out by scholars of the day reflected their biases. In the latter part of the 20th century some historians began to turn this around and correct the record, but much of the correction hasn’t trickled down to primary and secondary education or undergraduate history classes.

The Gone With the Wind version of Reconstruction history, in which poor destitute Scarlett O’Hara was reduced to eating raw radishes (from the garden she still owned next to the mansion she still occupied), apparently because the “servants” had run away and she had never learned to cook, is still being foisted on schoolchildren around the country. I have found young people who still believe that Reconstruction was “punishment” for the South because of the Civil War or because Lincoln was assassinated, or some such thing.

The truth is that the freed people were being terrorized and slaughtered wholesale by white mobs, sometimes by the hundreds. Freedmen frequently were shot for trying to vote. In one particularly horrible massacre in New Orleans, 1866, whites —  including police and city officials — stormed a peaceful political convention of people who wanted to end the black codes, killing 238 people, mostly African American.

General Grant, who in 1866 was something like the Joint Chiefs of Staff in one person,  had stationed Phil Sheridan in that district to keep the peace. Fake reports of violence in Texas drew Sheridan out of New Orleans, allowing the massacre to take place. By all accounts, Grant was furious and suspected Andrew Johnson’s administration of being complicit in the fake reports.

And that’s why President Grant ordered troops into the South. It had nothing to do with “punishing” anybody for Lincoln’s Assassination.

The best history of Reconstruction is Eric Foner‘s, but recently when I recommended Foner to some young folks on the Web they dismissed him as a “socialist.” So, because they don’t like his politics — which they probably don’t understand — they assume his history is bunk. Never mind that other historians regard him as the preeminent historian of the Reconstruction era of his generation. Thus are the ignorant kept ignorant.

Lee was a complicated guy whose choice to fight with the Confederacy was possibly more motivated by restoring family honor than defending slavery. The Lees of Virginia had been patrician and prominent for generations. But Lee’s father, Revolutionary War hero Light-Horse Harry Lee, somehow spent the fortunes of two wealthy wives — gambling and other vices are hinted at — and when Harry was in debtor’s prison Lee’s mother took toddler Robert and his baby sister to live with her wealthy family near Arlington. So he was raised in the plantation class but wasn’t entirely of it, since he had no inheritance or property of his own. At the same time, an older half-brother, a son of Light-Horse Harry by his first wife, got into some sort of big, splashy sex scandal, I believe with his wife’s sister. I suspect that what really motivated Lee was a need to prove he belonged in the patrician class he had been born into. Note also that R.E. Lee married into the Custis family, descendants of Martha Washington by her first husband.

Confederate apologists like to point out that Lee never owned slaves, but the fact is Lee never owned much of anything except through his marriage. But he married into a slave-owning family and appears to have not minded that.

Let it not be forgotten that when African American troops were captured by his army, saintly Robert E. put them to work building fortifications where they were within range of Union fire. White troops, on the other hand, were traded for Confederates in prisoner exchanges. Grant and Lincoln both felt that soldiers were soldiers and should be treated alike, and when Lee refused to exchange black prisoners the prisoner exchanges stopped, causing much human misery for which Grant and Lincoln, but not Lee, have been blamed.

One more note about Grant’s alleged drinking — that’s the one thing people know about Grant, was that he was a drunk. But these days historians say otherwise. There are some credible accounts of binge-drinking when he was a young officer stuck on the Pacific Coast away from his family, but the stories of his drinking during the Civil War mostly come from one uncorroborated source, or have been proved to be unfounded. The one fact about Grant all his biographers agree on is that his marriage was very happy, which is not generally the case with alcoholics. Accounts of White House dinners suggest he was able to drink a glass or two of wine and then stopping, which is not generally the case with alcoholics. So let’s put the “Grant the Drunk” slander to rest.

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America the Obstructed

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American History

Timothy Egan on Lincoln:

Now think of the legacy on this anniversary of the American passion play. Think of free land for the landless, the transcontinental railroad, the seeding of what would grow into national parks, the granting of human rights to people who had none. …

… But beyond: Could the Republicans who control Congress in 2015, the party of no, ever pass a Homestead Act? That law, which went into effect the very day, Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln’s wartime executive order to free slaves in the breakaway states did, carries a clause that very few Republicans would support now.

Former slaves, “famine Irish,” Russian Jews, single women, Mexicans who didn’t speak a word of English — all qualified to claim 160 acres as their own. You didn’t have to be a citizen to get your quarter-square-mile. You just had to intend to become a citizen.

In that sense, the Homestead Act was the Dream Act of today. It had a path to citizenship and prosperity for those in this country who were neither citizens nor prosperous.

Consider the vision to stitch a railroad from east to west, an enormous tangle of infrastructure. In 1862, Lincoln signed legislation spurring construction of the transcontinental railroad. That same year, he approved a bill that led to the creation of land grant colleges.

And so on. He also signed a bill that allowed California to protect the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias from being developed by private enterprise. President Ulysses S. Grant would later make Yosemite Yellowstone the first National Park in the history of the world.

All these things were essential to building the United States into the economoic powerhouse it would become in the 20th century. And Egan’s point is that today’s Republican Party would have just obstructed all of it.

Today, Congress will not even approve enough money to keep decrepit bridges from falling down, and has whittled away funds to help working kids stay in college. It’s laughable to think of Republicans’ approving of something visionary and forward-looking in the realm of transportation, energy or education. Government, in their minds, can never be a force for good.

And then there’s this:

The great, nation-shaping accomplishments of Lincoln’s day happened only because the South, always with an eye on protecting slavery and an estate-owning aristocracy, had left the union — ridding Congress of the naysayers.

There’s a lot of truth in that. The 19th century Democratic Party was anti-progressive. They not only favored slavery and later Jim Crow laws; they were also opposed to the role the federal government played in getting the railroads built. A lot of them reflexively opposed spending tax money on infrastructure projects, I have read.

The parties switched positions in the 20th century, so now the Dems are the progressives and the Republicans are the obstructionists. The point, though is that in the 19th century for a time the nation was able to invest in itself, and it became more prosperous thereby. Today’s Republicans like to warble about exceptionalism, but their policies are rendering the U.S. nothing but an exceptionally crappy place to live.

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Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh

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American History, Republican Party

Well, it’s move-in day at the Zen Center (ZCNYC-Fire Lotus Temple). Exactly how long I’m going to be there is up in the air. My intention is to stay at least six months and possibly a year, but we’ll see how it goes. And where I go after that I have no idea.

Anyway, some brief comments — Tom Cotton has learned that Iran is expanding its reach in the Middle East and already controls Tehran. He’s a quick one, our Tom. See also Jeb Lund, “None Dare Call It Treason: Tom Cotton, Iran and Old GOP Ideas.”

The CPAC conference room was standing-room only, stuffy with faint sweat, hot worsted wool and heavy breathing for boilerplate comments you could have predicted before you crossed the threshold. Cotton – who looks appropriately like Anthony Perkins in Psycho – proudly likened America to Rome, an empire that slowly tore itself apart over for-profit foreign wars, external threats leveraged to drown out domestic discontent, revenue diverted from infrastructure. Listeners murmured approvingly. Cotton asserted the need to send America to war to “defend its national interests” against “trans-national terrorist groups.” By his utterly meaningless definitions, we need to fight anyone, and we need to do it anywhere, and it is our right. A thrill went through the audience.

IMO it’s important to understand neocons and other reactionary hawks as pro-active isolationists. Oldstyle isolationists just wanted the outside world to stay out, and maybe go away. Pro-active isolationists will not rest until anything “outside” has been either forced into assimilation or destroyed. They’re something like the Borg, in other words.

Lund goes on to review the history of right-wing obstruction of U.S. foreign policy interests, from the 1930s Neutrality Acts to Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to negotiate a peace in Vietnam. And there is a review of Iran-Contra and the lie campaign that stampeded America into invading Iraq. And the fact that nobody ever is held accountable for any of this, and indeed, most of the voting public doesn’t really understand what was done, anyway.  Lund concludes,

In its Constitutional idolatry and boundless bellicosity, Cotton’s Republican Party has arrogated to itself the presumption that anything it does is explicitly American. The normative conditions of patriotism are whatever they want to do at any given moment, because only they have the courage to defend you from enemies abroad with guns and enemies at home via a fundamentalist reading of the texts and hadith of Our Founding Prophets (which, conveniently, also mentions guns). Anything outside their chosen agenda is met with the word no, which is the finest distillation of their agenda for anyone other than their own.

This prospective nuclear deal with Iran merely creates a shredded barbecue plate of corpses and the idea of America as commonwealth of disparate voices represented in equal strength. Government is not allowed to function when it disagrees with Cotton, because he not only considers government’s existence indivisible from his ideology but also because the Constitution in his reading explicitly demands that he do this. You cannot chasten a man who believes by the word of his holiest texts that this is his job. And his job, as written, is to advise and consent. On Iran, his message is clear. His advice is to stop, and you do not have his consent, which reifies not only the illegitimacy of your actions but the holy writ of his own. Without his consent, you cannot have anything at all, except a potential nuclear clash of messianic visions of world order. In which case – to quote the previous president’s nuanced address to the same enemies foreign and domestic – bring it on.

It’s also election day in Israel, and while Netenyahu’s Likud party is likely to lose he likely will be able to put together a coalition that will allow him to keep his position as Prime Minister. A pity.

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The Weekly Smoke and Mirrors

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American History

Weekly Standard headline on article by Daniel Halper: “NYTimes Fails to Disclose Clinton Paid for Interviews About Administration.”

Wow, the Times paid Hillary Clinton for interviews? That’s really odd, but … oh, wait, that’s not what happened.

In a five year span, the William J Clinton Foundation gave five grants totaling $851,250 to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. One year in particular, 2007, the Clinton gift was specifically marked: “Oral history project of Clinton presidency.”

Well, today the New York Times has a front page feature on the newly released oral history project about the Clinton presidency. The one the Clintons helped pay for. But nowhere in the 2,600 word piece do Times writers Amy Chozick (who is on the Clinton beat) and Peter Baker (longtime White House reporter) disclose the obvious conflict of interest.

Per Halpern’s article, in 2007 the Clinton Foundation marked $144,350 to pay for an oral history project of the Clinton presidency. The other four grants were not so marked. In the Times article about the oral history project, the Times failed to disclose that some of the funding for the project came from the Clinton Foundation. Halpern insinuates this was money being used to pay for fodder to help HRC’s assumed presidential bid in 2016. (Money spent in 2007? Was this about 2008? But the interviews weren’t made public until recently.)

But the Times article Halpern whines about suggests the oral history, which discusses HRC as First Lady, isn’t necessarily flattering to HRC and actually undermines some of her claims about her role as FLOTUS. And in fact Halpern couldn’t resist quoting some of the unflattering stuff about HRC’s screwups, thereby refuting his own thesis. But then he sneers, “An image of a strong, smart, loyal Hillary Clinton is one the former first lady will surely want 2016 voters to have of her. So perhaps it’s safe to say the Clinton Foundation’s $851,250 to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was money well spent.”

In fact, the “oral history project” really isn’t really about the Clintons exclusively. Per the Miller Center website,

The Presidential Oral History Program is systematically and comprehensively debriefing the principal figures in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton, with plans to do the same for future presidents. We are also conducting special projects on important topics in political history, including a six-year oral history on the life and career of Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Further,

The Presidential Oral History Program is a public service endeavor to provide such means and to preserve the true voices of past presidencies for posterity. …

… Accordingly our approach, first developed in the Center’s 1981–85 interview study of the Carter White House, differs from traditional interview practice in several respects. Rather than concentrating on a particular personality, issue or type of activity, we endeavor to cover in our interview program all the key actors in the administration together with the important issues and activities in which they were involved. Rather than one-on-one interviews, our interviews are normally conducted by teams of three or four scholars in several sessions over a two-day period. … Rather than Q&A sessions, the interviews may be likened to seminars in which former officials are teachers about the presidency in which they served and interviewers are students who want to have a better understanding of that presidency than is likely to be gained from news stories, memoirs, or public documents alone.

In other words, the Clintons were not in control of the interviews and were not paying for fluff and flattery. Halpern is crafting a “scandal” out of smoke and mirrors. So typical of the Weekly Standard.

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How Saul Alinsky Became the Bogeyman

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American History, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The rightie noise machine is pushing a story about a “close relationship” between the dreaded Hillary Clinton and the dreaded Saul Alinsky. Apparently some ancient correspondence between them has been published, proof of the evilness of the Evil Clinton Agenda.

Here’s typical commentary from a rightie blogger:

Alinsky’s chilling rules outlined in Rules for Radicals can be found here. Alinsky’s theories espouse Marxist and socialist ideologies, and this is the man on whom Hillary Clinton wrote her Wellesley College thesis. While writing her thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky’s theory of community organizing, Clinton met with Alinsky to have what she would later refer to as “biennial conversations.”

In her thesis, Hillary attempted to portray Alinsky as a mainstream American icon, writing, “His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them.”

The real Alinsky was neither a Marxist nor a socialist, of course. This is from that radical e-rag, the Christian Science Monitor:

While he has become associated with radical left-wing politics in current political thought, it’s an association that’s largely misplaced, says Mark Santow, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and the author of a forthcoming book on Alinsky.

Professor Santow says Alinsky’s philosophy did not have a political persuasion. Rather, he was “relentlessly non-ideological.” In fact, Santow says parts of Alinsky’s thinking could be found in elements of today’s Democrat and Republican Parties.

“He basically believed that American society was increasingly dominated by large institutions, governments, corporations,” he says. “He thought that ordinary Americans had lost citizenship.”

He adds: “He bears some resemblance to libertarians like William Buckley … but he also bears resemblance to green, new left politics on the other side as well.”

This article also points out that Clinton’s senior thesis was critical of Alinsky in several respects.

Dylan Matthews has a longer article at Vox examining the relationship between Alinsky and Clinton in more detail, and in the context of the times, and of course what is revealed is neither communist nor Marxist but more along the lines of traditional American leftie-progressive populism.

Matthews’s article is titled Who is Saul Alinsky, and why does the right hate him so much? He answers the first question pretty well — ironically noting that something like Alinsky’s methodology was used to organize the Tea Party — but I don’t think he answers the second one.

I doubt very much of your average rightie has more than a vague idea who Saul Alinsky actually was, what he actually proposed, what he actually did. I think the name has come to represent something dark and nasty from deep beneath the subconscious of the rightie hive mind that has little to do with the real Saul Alinsky. I sincerely believe the straw-man Alinsky is the Right’s Emmanuel Goldstein, the possibly fabricated enemy of the state from Orwell’s 1984.

And let me also say that if Alinsky actually had been named William Thompson or John White we wouldn’t be hearing about him now. The name itself, IMO, stirs up nameless fears of a foreign “other” in our midst. For all their celebrated support of the state of Israel, the U.S. right-wing base is an overwhelmingly Christian crew representing a portion of our population long associated with antisemitism. As much as they may support Israel, Jewishness may be something else to them.

Alinsky’s most famous work is a book titled Rules for Radicals. Even though they are radicals themselves, the word radical makes righties nervous. They associate it with the Left, I believe; “right-wing radicalism” is an oxymoron to them. The word radicalism seems to stir up fears of chaos and civil disorder, which they don’t like unless they are causing it. Then it’s okay.

Saul Alinsky, then, makes a first-rate right-wing bogeyman who sends chills up the spines of the faithful even if they couldn’t tell you who he actually was, beyond some guy who did community organizing.

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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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