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“What’s Old Is New Again In Ferguson”: The Tensions In Missouri Are Part Of A Too-Familiar American Story

Ferguson, Missouri, has opened our eyes to old and new unpleasant truths about the U.S. of A. First, a small Southern town burning over race – that’s a story we know by heart. American history and literature foretell it over and over: the South is the South is the South.

What’s new to our eyes is the extent to which police forces have become militarized against the citizenry. Why we should tolerate police officers on tanks, looking like warriors, wielding heavy artillery, is beyond me. It’s another outrageous gift from the presidency of George W. Bush, who founded the Department of “Homeland Security.” The word “homeland” was not even in American usage before 2001. Now with military surplus hardware going out to law enforcement, the face of policing at home has changed to become more hostile in a post-9/11 posture. Violence on civilians is thus more likely to happen.

Because of Ferguson, black anger and grief at white power and force is now in starker relief than the nation has witnessed in years. As our collective conscience registers the death of an unarmed youth by a police officer, this is a good time – a crisis – to look back as well as forward. Michael Brown was slain, shot several times, caught in the crossfire on a summer night, like many other young black men before him. Emmett Till, a Chicago youth of 14, died a brutal death in the oppressive heat of Mississippi in 1955. All they did to deserve dying was nothing.

Missouri has always been contested ground, a border state with Southern slavery and culture, much like Maryland. It’s the setting of the greatest American novel, all about the crucible of race. Mark Twain, a son of Missouri, wrote in “Huckleberry Finn” about runaway Huck and fugitive slave Jim seeking freedom, rafting on the Mississippi River, away from the slave state Missouri. How stark is that imagery in our shared memory? If you’ve ever seen Hannibal, the riverfront town that was Twain’s boyhood home, you can breathe that languorous Southern air that keeps people in their place. Missouri is far from the self-reliant Midwest in origins and character, contrary to reputation. It’s more Southern, not so much heartland.

One thing I will say in Missouri’s favor is that President Harry Truman, a native son, desegregated the armed forces soon after World War II. Good for Harry.

Missouri was a slave state in antebellum America and the focus of festering debate in Congress during the bitter divide between North and South. The “Missouri Compromise” of 1820 was just the first skirmish. In the 150 years since the Civil War, in the 50 years since the landmark civil rights acts, we are still prisoners of the past. Reconciliation is far from complete. Racial relations still smolder in the former slave states – known as “the Slave power,” among the abolitionists who resisted it. Philadelphia Quakers and Bostonian Unitarians shone as anti-slavery leaders from the 1830s to the 1850s. These decades were our darkest historical hours.

We still have an unspoken fault line, descended from the Mason-Dixon Line that separated freedom and slavery. Not all states were created equal, let’s be honest. The leading states standing against slavery were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York. That’s just the truth. But old Missouri still has the weight of slavery hanging over it, our own American “peculiar institution.” It remains somewhere under the sun, painfully re-enacted in variations to this day.

Just ask Michael Brown.


By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, Slavery | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way”: Will Republicans Raise The Minimum Wage? History Says Yes

Republicans may not have applauded when President Obama called for Congress to raise the minimum wage in his State of the Union address, but if history is any guide, it’s a good bet they will eventually do just that.

Since the minimum wage was established in 1938, every president, Republican or Democrat, except for Ronald Reagan has signed an increase into law. And in almost every instance, the bill came to the president’s desk with a big bipartisan vote from Congress. When Democrats crank up the pressure — and are willing to compromise with business interests — Republicans have routinely relented.

The most recent increase was in 2007, when nearly every Senate Republican and more than 60 percent of the House Republican Caucus voted in favor. And if you think the Republican Party was wildly more moderate back then, here are a few of the people that voted “Aye”: Michele Bachmann, Todd Akin, Bobby Jindal, and David Vitter.

What was different than today was the person sitting in the Oval Office: A chastened Republican giving his fellow conservatives political cover. But two other past increases played out against a similar political backdrop as today. In 1996 and 1949, congressional conservatives faced a Democratic president they loathed, yet were unwilling to face the voters and say they blocked a wage hike.

In the presidential election year of 1996, Speaker Newt Gingrich quietly signaled to his House caucus that they should let the increase go through after procedural stalling prompted the AFL-CIO to pound Republicans with television ads. Feeling the heat, 40 percent of House Republicans eventually crossed the aisle.

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Bob Dole had been fighting the increase. But he resigned his Senate seat in June to jumpstart his campaign for president. Soon after, new Majority Leader Trent Lott, facing a Democratic threat to propose minimum wage amendments to every bill that reached the floor, backed down and allowed the bill to come to a vote. More than half of the caucus broke ranks.

In 1949, President Harry Truman just had been elected to his first full term in the most famous comeback in political history, thanks to a fiercely populist campaign that also reclaimed control of Congress to the Democrats. Yet it was not a liberal Congress. An informal alliance of conservative Southern Democrats and Republicans remained in force, and would eventually squelch most of Truman’s “Fair Deal” proposals. But the widely popular minimum wage was a rare exception.

Truman’s proposed increase was particularly ambitious, almost doubling the base hourly rate from 40 cents to 75 cents (from $3.81 to $7.14 in today’s dollars) and dramatically expanding the pool of workers covered by the law. As Truman historian Mark Byrnes recently recounted, conservatives did try to stop Truman, “but not by using today’s obstructionist tactics. They actually proposed an alternative: Limiting the increase to 65 cents an hour, indexing the wage to inflation, and eliminating the expansion of workers covered.” In the end, they struck a hard bargain. Truman got his wage increase, but as Byrnes notes, “in the short run [the compromise] actually reduced the number of workers covered by the law.”

In fact, all of the minimum wage increases mentioned above came with sops to the business lobby that eased Republican opposition. The 1996 and 2007 bills came with small business tax cuts and failed to increase the minimum wage for waiters who receive tips. That minimum remains stuck at $2.13.

Is this history relevant today? Or is the current Tea Party hatred of President Obama too much to overcome?

Consider the following:

The popularity of the issue is as strong as ever: In a Quinnipiac poll from earlier this month, 71 percent support an increase, including 52 percent of Republicans.

As I wrote here back in October, Speaker John Boehner has proven vulnerable to Democratic pressure tactics when Democrats are on extremely firm political ground — providing disaster relief, keeping the government open, and raising taxes on the wealthy to avert a tax hike on the middle class.

Finally, the Democratic proposal that Obama endorsed this week is a highly ambitious one — akin to Truman’s 1949 opening bid — which leaves much room for compromise.

The Harkin-Miller bill envisions a $10.10 hourly minimum wage, which would raise the floor to one of the highest levels in history after accounting for inflation. It would then index the minimum wage to inflation, meaning it would stay at that high level forever. And it jacks up the hourly minimum of tipped workers to about $7.

Poll numbers were not enough to break Boehner on an issue like gun control, because the gun lobby is politically potent and implacable. But history shows the business lobbies generally opposed to the minimum wage are far more willing to deal. And there is room to maneuver on the final rate, on indexing, and on tipped workers.

Where a final deal gets tricky is not how Democrats can scale back their opening bid, it’s what sweeteners can be concocted for the business lobby to attract Republican support. The tax break model of the 1996 and 2007 bills will be much harder to pull off under the tight budget caps both parties accepted and wrote into law this month.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Democrats have an abundance of will, and Republicans will need a way out. As history shows, they always take it.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, January 30, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Minimum Wage, Republicans | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Far Nastier Than Anything Revealed By Gates”: Cabinet Officials Going Rogue, A Brief History

Washington is predictably hyperventilating about the swipes against the Obama White House delivered by his former secretary of defense in a new memoir, but the fact that a cabinet official had differences of opinion with a president is hardly a shocking development. Pick any history book about a presidential administration, and you will find loads of palace intrigue, bruised egos, grudge matches, and sharp words from those who lost internal arguments.

Furthermore, battles between presidents and cabinet members have been known to be far nastier than anything revealed by Gates.

You may recall that President George W. Bush was wounded when Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill unloaded to reporter Ron Suskind. O’Neill accused the White House of systematically putting politics ahead of policy, revealed the blind obsession of some officials with invading Iraq, and quoted Vice President Dick Cheney defending tax cuts for the rich by saying “deficits don’t matter.” O’Neill’s revelations became the centerpiece of Suskind’s 2004 book The Price of Loyalty, which helped shape the narrative of the Bush presidency, even though it failed to derail his re-election.

Ronald Reagan’s second term was famously hit with a double blast of vengeful books from former cabinet members. People Magazine observed at the time that “Ronald Reagan is the first president in the nation’s history to suffer — while still in office — such opportunistic vivisection by former associates.”

His first budget director David Stockman published The Triumph of Politics: Why The Reagan Revolution Failed in 1986, which popularized the terms “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisk” to explain how budget gimmicks were deployed to mask the failure to cut spending. Later, former Treasury Secretary and Chief of Staff Donald Regan slammed the White House in For the Record, which revealed how Nancy Reagan sought to control the White House with the help of astrology.

Indeed, fierce scraps between presidents and key cabinet officials are par for the course, if not always well known or remembered.

President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, the wildly popular war hero George Marshall, told him to his face that if he recognized the new state of Israel he would vote against him for re-election, an implicit threat to sandbag his campaign. Truman was stunned, but he held firm and Marshall backed down, kept his opposition to himself, and rebuffed suggestions he should resign in protest.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had an ugly tangle with his first budget director Lewis Douglas. In 1933, Douglas, horrified by Roosevelt’s plans to take American currency off the gold standard (he privately deemed it “the end of western civilization”) began leaking to the press that some administration officials considered the monetary strategy to be unconstitutional. But Roosevelt thought Dean Acheson, then undersecretary of the Treasury, was the leak and fired him instead.

The following year, Douglas resigned in protest of Roosevelt’s decision to increase public works spending to fight the Depression instead of ending all “emergency expenditures.” Once out of the White House, Douglas publicly lashed out at the New Deal as having a “deadly parallel” to Soviet communism, and campaigned for the Republican presidential nominees in 1936 and 1940.

President Woodrow Wilson perhaps dealt with the harshest rebuke from a cabinet member when his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a huge political force in the Democratic Party, resigned in protest of Wilson’s handling of Germany during the run-up to World War I. Bryan proceeded to travel the countryside, rallying support against any moves toward entering the war and threatening a fatal split in the party. Yet Wilson’s own barnstorming in favor of military preparedness kept the Democrats unified, allowing him to win re-election and steer Democratic Party foreign policy away from isolationism for the next 100 years.

Compared to the above, the Gates memoir — with its reported mix of praise and criticism — seems like a gentle ribbing.

More importantly, the history of cabinet tensions reminds us that the view from one cabinet member can’t give a full picture of a president and an administration. It is only one account, and needs to be reconciled with several others, and assessed alongside the final outcomes of presidential policies, before it can be properly analyzed. The Gates memoir is sure to be an important artifact of the Obama historic record, but it’s unlikely to be the Rosetta Stone.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Unexpected Turn”: Missouri Develops Strategy To Prevent A Repeat Ghastly Rush Limbaugh Bronze Bust Statue Debacle

Last year, both Steve and I wrote posts discussing the induction of Rush Limbaugh into Missouri’s Hall of Fame. At the time, there seemed little of redeeming value to this tale but now, it has taken an unexpected, and even encouraging, turn.

Just to recap: inside the grand rotunda of the state capitol in Jefferson City sits the Hall of Famous Missourians, a stately array of bronze busts celebrating such notables as Mark Twain, Harry Truman, and as of May 14, 2012, a broadcaster from Cape Girardeau named Rush Hudson Limbaugh III. Tellingly, the Hall’s latest inductee failed to meet with universal acclaim.  According to Politico:

News of the impending ceremony broke shortly after he called Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut,” inspiring a “Flush Rush!” campaign against Republican House Speaker Steven Tilley, who selected Limbaugh for the honor. In the past couple of months, protesters reportedly have delivered hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Tilley’s office and presented him with approximately 35,000 petition signatures.

Republican leaders of the Missouri House kept the induction event secret until 25 minutes beforehand, hoping to keep protesters away from the unveiling of Limbaugh’s bronze bust. The Kansas City Star reported that the doors were locked and guarded by armed members of the Missouri Highway Patrol while the ceremony took place.  Behind those locked doors, the honoree took this solemn occasion to say, “Our so-called ‘friends’ on the other side of the aisle are deranged.”

So that went well.

But now Missouri has a new House Speaker, Tim Jones, who devised this inspired online strategy to avoid any repeat of the ghastly Limbaugh debacle:

Selection into the hall traditionally has been at the discretion of the Speaker of the House. However, current House Speaker Tim Jones has empowered the people of Missouri to decide the next outstanding Missourians to be honored by induction into the hall. Please use the forms below to provide your suggestion for the next inductee into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Also include your reasoning for why your selection makes the ideal candidate to join the likes of Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers and Stan Musial. Speaker Jones will accept nominations until September 13, 2013 and will formulate a “Top 10” list of candidates based on the results and other important criteria as recommended by nonpartisan staff of the Missouri House. Visitors will then have the opportunity to cast their votes for the final 10 nominees with the two candidates who receive the highest number of votes selected for induction into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Voting will conclude October 13, 2013.

So they’re going to let Missourians decide who gets to be in the Hall of Famous Missourians? Sounds suspiciously like democracy to me.

By: Kent Jones, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2013

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bullhorn Is In The Museum, And So Is The Bull”: Bush’s Long-Shot Campaign To Be Seen As Truman

The dedication this week of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was more than an opportunity for the five living U.S. presidents to compare notes on what Stefan Lorant called “the glorious burden” of the office.

It also was the beginning of Bush’s campaign for rehabilitation. As Bill Clinton said at the ceremony, all presidential libraries are attempts “to rewrite history.”

Bush’s ultimate goal — already hawked by his former political advisor Karl Rove — is to become another Harry S. Truman, a regular-guy commander in chief whose stock rose sharply about 20 years after he left office.

The superficial comparisons are intriguing. Vice President Truman only became president because Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office in 1945. The failed haberdasher and product of the Kansas City political machine was unlikely to make it to the top on his own. He was a plain-spoken, unpretentious man who cared enough about racial injustice that he desegregated the armed forces.

Bush became president because he was born on third base, to paraphrase Texas governor Ann Richards’ quip about his father, and because of the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore in 2000; an unexceptional man who drank heavily until he was 40 probably wouldn’t have made it on his own. He’s a blunt, compassionate conservative who, as Jimmy Carter pointed out at the dedication, saw the ravages of AIDS in Africa and elsewhere and did something about it. (Bush also appointed two black secretaries of state.)

Like Iraq in Bush’s era, the Korean War was hugely unpopular when Truman left office in 1953, and his decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan was at least as controversial as Bush’s support for torture.

Still, you don’t have to be Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to know that the differences between Bush and Truman are much greater than the similarities.

In Korea, Truman was responding to communist aggression, not hyping unconfirmed stories about weapons of mass destruction.

While Truman’s “Marshall Plan” (named for his secretary of state, George C. Marshall) produced spectacular results in postwar Europe, Bush apparently didn’t even have a plan for postwar Iraq.

His decision to disband the Iraqi army was catastrophic. Iraq and the simultaneous neglect of Afghanistan are only the best-known Bush administration fiascos that are all but airbrushed out of the museum, though not out of the historical record.

A broader list would include weakening bank-capital requirements and prohibitions on predatory lending that helped pave the way for the financial crisis; botching the response to Hurricane Katrina; gutting federal rules on worker safety, education, veterans’ affairs and other protections; endorsing a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; editing climate-change reports to the specifications of ideologues; reinstating the global gag rule on family planning in deference to right-wing anti-abortion activists, and politicizing appointments to the federal bench and federal law enforcement.

All this is ignored by Bush apologists. Ed Gillespie, a longtime Republican operative who last year helped the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, offered a defense of Bush in National Review that sought to absolve him of any blame for the budget deficit. As if the trillion-dollar wars, unaffordable tax cuts, the $550 billion (unpaid-for) prescription-drug benefit and hundreds of billions of lost revenue in the recession that began on his watch could be erased from history.

The new museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas is cleverly designed to subsume Bush’s record within the burdens of the presidency. It includes a “Decision Theater” that puts visitors in the shoes of a president forced to make tough calls on a variety of pressing issues.

The subtext is that this is an extremely hard job and that you, the visitor, couldn’t do it any better than Bush did.

While this may make for a thought-provoking museum experience, it’s a low bar for presidential performance. Allowing for some mistakes, we should admire our presidents not because they have to face tough decisions but for making the right ones.

The “moral clarity” that is Bush’s claim to presidential respectability is only worth something if it results in clear achievement.

As a sign that even Bush knows his batting average on big decisions was low, the museum barely mentions Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other officials who helped him make them.

Cheney’s churlish behavior and frequent shots at President Barack Obama over the last four years have made Bush, who has refrained from criticism, look restrained and classy by comparison.

But you can’t flush a disastrous war down the memory hole. At the dedication, the word “Iraq” wasn’t mentioned once, and the museum covers the subject in a section devoted to “the Global War on Terror.”

Continuing to conflate Iraq with the Sept. 11 attacks is an insult to truth that historians will never be able to overlook.

On Sept. 14, 2001, I was in the White House press pool and was five feet from Bush as he stood atop a crushed truck as rescue workers at Ground Zero shouted that they couldn’t hear the president speak.

“I can hear you! I can hear you,” Bush said through a bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” It was a defining moment for his presidency.

The problem that Bush can never get around is that “the people who knocked these buildings down” — namely, Osama bin Laden — didn’t hear from Bush, while others unconnected to the attacks did.

The bullhorn is in the museum. And so is the bull.


By: Jonathan Alter, The National Memo, April 26, 2013


April 27, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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