Archive for History


Friday 50 Years Later Open Thread

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Fifty years ago today, November 22, I was in Scout Room in the basement of St. Celestine’s Catholic School in Elmwood Park, IL, a close-in Chicago suburb. It was, like today, a Friday. Friday afternoon. I was sitting on the right side of the classroom, halfway down the row of wooden desks against the windows that looked out into the window well. The sun was streaming in through the grating above when the news came over the P.A. that President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, had been shot in Dallas. There was no further news on his condition. We prayed the rosary, then school let out early. The world had stopped.

It was not the first death I had experienced as a child. Three years earlier, my uncle had died in the Park Slope mid-air collision over New York City. Still, the news was dramatic and alarming, yet incomprehensible.

Last night while driving back to my hotel, NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a feature about the reaction at a Boston Symphony concert when the news arrived. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf delivered the news and, as the shocked audience’s gasps echoed in the hall, announced that the orchestra would play the funeral march from Beethoven’s Third Symphony. A second wave of gasps, as the finality of the news sank in.

I had never heard this tape before.

Later, during a scheduled intermission, the musicians debated backstage whether it was appropriate to go on. Ultimately, Henry B. Cabot, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s president of trustees, decided the music should continue.

Cabot addressed the audience, “The ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra came to me during intermission, and some of them felt that we should not continue the concert. I told them that I thought we should continue. And I told them that the day my father died,” Cabot said, his voice cracking, “I came to a symphony concert for consolation. And I believe you will receive it yourselves.”

Fifty years later, I teared up behind the wheel.

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Therein Lies The Difference

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Thomas Mills at Politics North Carolina has a must-read post entitled, “Fifty Years of Democrats”. Go read the whole thing. Excerpt:

“And therein lies the fundamental difference between North Carolina Democrats and the current breed of Republicans running our state. Democrats believe that if we invest in people, infrastructure and institutions of learning, that businesses will come. We believe that wise management of our natural resources creates as much opportunity as exploiting them. We believe that government can work in partnership with business to create a high quality of life and sustainable jobs. We believe that because that’s what we’ve done.”


An America In Retreat?

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Aerial photo of the California Aqueduct at the Interstate 205 crossing. Credit: Ian Kluft, Wikimedia Commons.

Has America – and the American Dream itself – gone into retreat? Once the largest, most prosperous in the world, the American middle class is faltering, crumbling like our nation’s schools and bridges.

Flag-pin-wearing, American exceptionalists tell crowds this is the greatest nation on Earth, and then repeat “we’re broke.” They hope to dismantle safety net programs, telling Americans working harder than ever – at jobs and looking for jobs – that they don’t have enough “skin in the game.” Wake up and smell the austerity. America can no longer afford Americans.

Some of us remember a time when America’s dreams were boundless.

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National Treasure

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IMG_0915Sequoia National Park — The Giant Forest

This is like the Area 51 of trees. I keep thinking what it would have taken to get up here before the roads and cars. It would take a week with pack horses to get up here. There is no hint down below that anything like this might exist up here. Such trees might have been the stuff of local legends. Tinfoil hat stuff. Who would believed you if you told them about the giant Sequoia?

On the drive up here I kept looking at the rock walls constructed along the road. Damned socialist make-work spending. (And I and wonder why we are not putting people to work doing this sort of thing when so many people need employment right now. The Blue Ridge Parkway has been an economic benefit to western North Carolina since the Depression.) Visitors from all over the world come to Sequoia national Park to see these trees, a national and world heritage. President Bill Clinton added the Sequoia National Monument Section in 2000.

But I suppose we must roll with the changes. Austerians tell us there is little money for national heritage. And none for world heritage. (Plenty for wars, though.) Besides, nobody knows who the dead presidents and generals are after whom some of these trees are named anyway.

Isn’t it time for corporate sponsorship (if not outright privatization) of our national heritage? So the General Sherman tree now will be the Goldman Sachs Tree. The General Grant Tree will be the Bank of America tree. And the McKinley Tree will be the Walmart Tree. Henceforth, all these giants will be named after large corporations and banks because these things are too big to fail.

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It’s Coming…

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Standing Up to Unjust Laws

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The Campaign for Southern Equality is marching across the south, calling for full federal equality for LGBT citizens. Watch the new video. All of us have a responsibility to be as brave as the couples who are requesting marriage licenses and standing up for a more perfect union. With all of the unjust laws being considered here in North Carolina against the poor, the middle class, minorities, college students, the elderly, pregnant women, etc. – understand that our LGBT compatriots are fighting to speed the day when they will be allowed recognition under the law.

After you watch the video, here’s a link that may help you know what to do next.

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Colonist v. Royalist

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Maybe it was the flurry of ALEC-backed legislation in Raleigh. Or maybe the vote suppression legislation. But something about Moral Mondays in Raleigh reminded me of this post from March 2011 as events unfolded in Madison, WI:

Colonist or Royalist?

It’s what every American should be asking themselves this week. The Tea Party too.

Do you stand with the modern-day British East India Corporations and their masters (the Kochs, the Olins, the Bradleys and other royals that want to unmake the American Century and rig American democracy like they rigged the financial markets)? Or do you stand with the people in your community? Who do you serve?

It’s pretty clear who Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP leadership in Wisconsin serves. They and their brethren and Forbes 400 patrons have declared open war on the middle class, with rafts of industry ghost-written legislation in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana — in about half the states. To strip the collective bargaining rights of political enemies, to defund public schools (and teachers), to suppress the vote by requiring photo IDs (Jim Crow, Jr.), to dissolve elected local governments in a corporate coup d’état, to arrogate sweeping executive authority over state agencies in a single unelected … tzar(?), to transfer tax dollars from the poor and middle class to give tax breaks to corporations, the works — all supported by the same press-shy billionaire ideologues behind Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council. As the fake “Koch” phone call demonstrated, they don’t care about your jobs or your economy, and they don’t care about you.

So where do you stand? Colonist or Royalist?

Pretty sure those guys are followers, not leaders. Look, this is a movement named for a famously expensive act of vandalism against the private assets of the British East India Company, probably the largest corporation of its day. A company so in bed with the British government — and Members of Parliament — that their tax subsidies were allowing them to undercut the price of illegal tea smuggled in from Holland. This pissed off the smugglers. Royally.

It’s hard to imagine the Walter Mittys in that video lifting a finger against their corporate overlords like the patriots they fancy thyemselves. I’d charge them with false advertising, but they’ve helped their masters see to it that there’s little funding for enforcement of consumer protection laws against corporations. Pretty much the sort of thing going on in Raleigh right now.

Go figure.

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The foremost duty, therefore, of the rulers of the State should be to make sure that the laws and institutions, the general character and administration of the commonwealth, shall be such as of themselves to realize public well-being and private prosperity … to benefit every class in the State, and amongst the rest to promote to the utmost the interests of the poor … since it is the province of the commonwealth to serve the common good.

What, no rugged individualism or moral hazard?

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LBJ Tapes: Nixon “treason”

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Declassified tapes from the Johnson administration provide evidence that “strongly implicated (audio)” Richard Nixon in back-channel communications with South Vietnam that sabotaged the Paris peace talks at the height of the 1968 presidential election campaign:

By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks – or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”.

Nixaon feared a breakthrough in Paris would doom his election chances. In late October, the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks.

Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.

Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador’s phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.

So they decided to say nothing.

The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.

Instead, Nixon won, escalated the war and bombed Laos and Cambodia. An additional 22,000 Americans lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more in Southeast Asia before the peace agreement signed in 1973.

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Rediscovered History

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This story of making public these records at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office was told in the newspaper awhile back. Now “Forever Free” retells that story, making it available to a wider audience.

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