Tag Archives: US History

In so many ways . . .

. . . we are really two different countries and the similarities to Civil War era America abound.

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And there’s this too  – the ten poorest States. I got it from a 2011 story at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze where commenters were not surprised, reasoning that that’s what Obama had done to us in just 20 months. The man worked fast!

  1. Mississippi
  2. Arkansas
  3. Tennessee
  4. West Virginia
  5. Louisiana
  6. Montana
  7. South CArolina
  8. Kentucky
  9. Alabama
  10. North Carolina

How about teen pregnancies? Below the mid point and dominating the list for ‘least teen pregnancies’, all of New England and most of the NorthEast. And what region dominates the list for ‘most teen pregnancies’? Lookee here:

STATES WITH MOST TEEN PREGNANCIES:
New Mexico – 93/1,000
Mississippi – 90/1,000
Texas – 85/1,000
Nevada – 84/1,000
Arkansas – 82/1,000
Arizona – 82/1,000
Delaware – 81/1,000
Louisiana – 80/1,000
Oklahoma – 80/1,000
Georgia – 78/1,000

STATES WITH FEWEST TEEN PREGNANCIES:
Iowa – 51/1,000
Nebraska – 50/1,000
Utah – 48/1,000
Wisconsin – 45/1,000
Maine – 43/1,000
Massachusetts – 42/1,000
North Dakota – 42/1,000
Minnesota – 42/1,000
Vermont – 38/1,000
New Hampshire – 33/1,000

How about high school dropouts by State? A pattern emerges.

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I like this picture

presidents

It’s an illustration of one thing that we’re still doing right – this picture reminds me that for two and a quarter centuries we’ve managed a peaceful transfer of power every few years. That counts for something.

We’re not them, so who are we?

 In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.

That’s from a NY Times op-ed today by George Packer (author of one of my favorite Iraq War era books, The Assassins’ Gate). It was true then. But we all know it’s not true now.

Later in his piece (which is about individualism as reflected by a celebrity obsessed culture), he uses the phrase ‘the great leveling’. And that perfectly explains I think why that post-War era succeeded and did so on every level.

The shared experience of WWII touched everyone, whether at war or at home. At war, the mechanic served with the lawyer whose car he fixed, and the young kid with an 8th grade education spent lonely nights talking to college professors.  Even more powerful in its effect on the later society was that they not only shared the experience but during it they were equals – all called to service by their country, wearing the same uniforms, fighting in the same battles with the same weapons. ‘GI Joe’ carried the same rifle as his lieutenant did.

They shared too, by rising to the challenge. And when it was done, they shared the tears and the pride.

It’s possible for societies to exhibit those values even without war. There are some here on our planet who manage it. But for us, that day is past.

We’ll never be those people again.

Now go have a nice day!

Guns, damn guns and things I didn’t know: Part the gajillionth

During the American Revolution, local militias –  who played the role of today’s  National Guard – had no collective arms and depended entirely upon the arms and ammunition of private citizens. (Okay, I knew that part.)

american-colonial-militia-rifleman-randy-steeleTo facilitate response time (the British are coming! the British are coming!), they often stockpiled their arms in one place for easy access. Basically, an armory.

Before the Revolution and in its very early days, the British – the ‘central government’ of that day – took to seizing those arms, something the good folks  took personally – those guns were private property after all. (Might that be the origin of our love affair with personal weapons – well, public weapons as well, since we are the largest arms exporter in the world.)

There are several references to militias in The Constitution (which I did not know; I thought it was only addressed in the Second Amendment). Article I assigns Congress the power to:

. . . provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; [and]

To provide for organizing, arming and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing of such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States.

(I’m getting this from Jeffrey Toobin’s terrific 2012 book about Obama and the Roberts Court by the way.)

Toobin goes on:

Article II says the president is C in C of the army, navy and “Militia of the Several States when called into the actual Service of the United States”. It wasn’t until the Militia Act of 1903 that their functions were formally subsumed into other agencies, like the National Guard . . .

And this: in the first 200 years of our existence, the Supreme Court discussed the Second Amendment exactly once, in 1938. It – U.S. v. Miller – was a challenge to the National Firearms Act passed in 1934 in response to the gang violence of the day and in particular to the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, which horrified the country not least because ‘machine guns’ were used. The Court ruled – unanimously – that the Act complied fully with the Second Amendment. Justice McReynolds spoke for the Court, saying they’d concluded that the Second Amendment existed to preserve the rights of militias – not individuals – to keep and bear arms.

And the issue disappeared once again, resurfacing only after the Kennedy assassinations.

massacreThe Gun Control Act of 1968 had widespread public support including the strong support of the NRA (when they still represented actual gun owners). 

IRONY ALERT: That didn’t change until Ronald Reagan’s 1976 campaign for the presidency. Writing an article for Guns and Ammo in 1975, he set off an entirely different conversation about guns, working opposition into a libertarian message, even insisting that the Second Amendment prohibited gun control – so much so that the 1976 Republican platform proclaimed a new-found opposition to gun control, reversing its previous 1972 platform supporting gun control. And in 1977, hard-liners staged a coup d’etat at the NRA to align with the new position). Everything changed.

But back to 1939. Toobin calls the U.S. v. Miller decision:

entirely originalist in its reasoning. The opinion quoted the provisions of Article I  dealing with the powers and then stated “With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces, the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.”

Toobin continues:

Indeed, if the Second Amendment were intended by its framers to give individuals a right to keep and bear arms, the initial militia clause [“A well-regulated Militia  being necessary”, etc.] would be both unnecessary and meaningless.”

I find the reasoning of both that 1939 Court and of Jeffrey Toobin to be impeccable. (And as proof that I care, know that I had to type all this . . . no cut and paste from da books!)

I’m ready! Got the cake; got the candles. Anyone know what time the fireworks start?

Betcha didn’t know that tomorrow is Jefferson Davis’ Birthday! (Here in Florida, that’s a paid holiday for State workers. Betcha didn’t know that either!)

Fortunately the celebration of ole Jeff’s birthday only calls for that other flag, cuz I just put away the stars and stripey one after Memorial Day.

Dear elvis, look how Obama has spent all our money!

In an earlier post, kitchenmudge asked if this nation ever had a balanced budget. I don’t know, but this post says the last time we did it was 1957.  He has some nice clean tables there. In this one, note that the deficit went down every one of  Clinton’s 8 years in office and it went up in 7 of 8 years of George Bush. Say no more.

 

And this is a good summary of historic trends in our debt; it sounds like any law demanding a balanced budget would preclude our ability to go to war since wars are always fought on borrowed money. I’ve faulted GW Bush for that, but the real problem was that he simultaneously implemented huge tax cuts.

The United States has had public debt since its inception. Debts incurred during the American Revolutionary War and under the Articles of Confederation led to the first yearly reported value of $75,463,476.52 on January 1, 1791. From 1796 to 1811 there were 14 surpluses and only 2 deficits. The first dramatic growth spurt of the debt occurred because of the War of 1812. In the first 20 years following the War of 1812, 18 surpluses were experienced and the US paid off 99.97% of its debt.

The second dramatic growth spurt of the debt occurred because of the Civil War. The debt was just $65 million in 1860, but passed $1 billion in 1863 and had reached $2.7 billion following the war. In the following 47 years America returned to the practice of running surpluses during times of peace experiencing 36 surpluses and only 11 deficits. During this period 55% of the US national debt was paid off.

The next period of major growth in debt came during WWI reaching $25.5 billion at its conclusion. It was followed by 11 straight surpluses and saw the debt reduced by 36%.

 

We know Palin likes red, but who knew she liked the Tories too?

A fine figure of a man

When I posted this video earlier, I missed something, but ojmo picked it up in comments. This all-bumper-sticker video celebrating Sarah Palin’s America? Watch it and ask yourself, as ojmo did, What’s with the Redcoats!.

For those of us who slept through high school History, the Redcoats were the British. We wore a very tasteful blue with cream lapels. Quite attractive – especially on Washington who chose the uniform. Epic fail Sarah. Now let’s see who amongst the punditocracy notices.

Henry Ford made cars but he didn’t build any roads.

We suffer legions of fellow citizens who hate government and are certain that all innovation and growth comes from the almighty private sector, driven by individualists and innovators.

I copy/pasted this some months back and failed to copy the link. It speaks to this point better than anything I’ve ever read. And I don’t know who said it. So my apologies the author and my thanks for the fine words.

Decades of relentless Republican hate-mongering against the government has done its job.

Never mind that it was government that pulled off the greatest feat of social engineering in history. In 1900, only 4% of Americans graduated from high school. By 2000, more than 80% did. It was this mass educated public that made possible the most technically sophisticated economy in the history of the world.

It was government that won both World War I and World War II, leaving the U.S. economy astride the world like a colossus, able to harvest the fruits for decades. It was the government GI Bill program that educated a generation of young people to ultimately defeat the Soviet Union.

It was the government that wired every house in the country for electricity during the Great Depression, setting up the largest household consumer-goods market in the world in the 1950s: home appliances. And it was government guarantees for home loans that set off the greatest building boom in the history of the world: suburbia.

It was government that paved more than 3 million miles of road between 1930 and 1960, making possible the massive economic boom associated with automobiles, mass mobility, and more. It was government research that invented the graphical user interface (I remember when we called it ‘gooey’) and the Internet.

Of course, none of that matters.

Random thought: the tragedy of missed opportunities

Moments when this country could have made epic and positive changes – but didn’t.

President Andrew Johnson –  He entered the White HOuse following Lincoln’s assassination. He had utter disdain for the emerging Reconstruction policy, stopped it and led with is own bigotry.  The legacy of slavery wasn’t addressed again until the mid-20th century (Truman to Johnson).

GW Bush – Following 9/11, just eight months into his presidency, George Bush had a nation that would have followed its president anywhere, risen to any challenge. He had a chance to give us a ‘go to the moon’ challenge and the US could have begun a journey to lead the world in alternative energy technology (not instead of Afghanistan; the efforts could have been side by side).

Obama – He walked into office on a day when the nation would have enthusiastically gotten behind a call for vast reform of the financial industry, the  tax codes and a stronger regulatory structure. But he didn’t. Stimulus was the right thing to do, but it stopped short. And in the financial industry at least, it reenforced the bad behaviors that led to the meltdown.

Yeah, but we have a kick ass military

Newsweek just published one of those How Dumb Are We articles that seem to pop up every few years. We Americans never do very well, especially compared with the rest of the First World.

For as long as they’ve existed, Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators. . . .  the yearly shifts in civic knowledge since World War II have averaged out to slightly under one percent.

This time the magazine surveyed 1000 people and the 100 questions were from the current test for US Citizenship. It seems most of us would fail. I tried to take the quiz and got up to #28 (of 100 questions), but honestly, the process is painfully slow so I just quit. Each question is on its own screen, then another screen for the answer which also shows the scores of the people surveyed. It was depressing:

  • 70% of Americans don’t know what is the supreme law of the land
  • 86% don’t know how many members of the House of Representatives
  • 61% have no idea how long a Senator serves
  • 63% don’t know how many justices on the Supreme Court
  • 87% don’t know that the economic system in the US is capitalism
  • 81% couldn’t name one of the enumerated powers of the Federal Government
  • 73% couldn’t name the US enemy in the Cold War

Oddly, a full 58% do know that the Speaker of the House is third in line for the Presidency.

The accompanying article, in making the point that Americans have always been ill informed about their own government and country, said that now, however,  “the world has changed. And unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings—like us.”

In fairness, they describe some of the mitigating factors that contribute to why we fare so poorly against other developed nations,  especially in Europe.

Most experts agree that the relative complexity of the U.S. political system makes it hard for Americans to keep up. In many European countries, parliaments have proportional representation, and the majority party rules without having to share power with a lot of subnational governments . . .  In contrast, we’re saddled with a nonproportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office. . . It doesn’t help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world . . . we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.

If you have the patience to take the test (here) let us know how you did.

44 Presidents and we’re still standing