Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

U.S. Politics

On her last day as First Lady, Betty Ford jumped on the Cabinet Room table in the White House and started dancing; ca. 1977

This was when she was still on drugs. Afterwards ... BOR ... ING !

An ashtray at every seat. You sure won’t see that anymore.


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“Hello Democrats! Welcome to Chicago” 1968, police guarding the Democratic National Convention from nearby protesters

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Hillary Clinton as a High School senior on her debate team in Park Ridge, Illinois; ca. 1965

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President Lyndon B. Johnson holds his dog “Her” by the ears as his other dog “Him” looks on, the White House lawns; April 27, 1964

To be fair Lyndon Johnson wasn't all that nice to humans, either.

Him and Her, the most well known of the President Johnson’s dogs, were registered beagles born on June 27, 1963. The President frequently played with the dogs and was often photographed with them. In 1964, President Johnson raised the ire of many when he lifted Him by his ears while greeting a group on the White House lawn.

Her died at the White House in November 1964, after she swallowed a stone. Him died in June 1966, when he was hit by a car while chasing a squirrel on the White House. (Source)


Top scientists at ground zero soon after the world’s first nuclear explosion; ca. July 1945

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Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves inspect the melted remnants of the 100-foot steel tower that held the Trinity bomb. Ensuring that the testing of a bomb with unknown strength would remain completely secret, the government chose a location that was so remote they had to import their water from over 150 miles away.


Jimmy Hoffa as he appeared before a Senate hearing. August 22, 1957, Washington, DC.

Begging for Contempt of Congress, by the look see of it.

Begging for Contempt of Congress, by the look see of it.

The story is Jimmy was getting grilled by Bobby Kennedy who was the chief counsel of the 1957–59 Senate Labor Rackets Committee under chairman John L. McClellan. On this day in 1964, Hoffa, then Teamsters Union President, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for defrauding his union’s pension fund. In 1971, President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence.


A policeman rips the American flag away from 5-year-old Anthony Quinn, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Jackson, Mississippi; ca. 1965

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The guy in the background looks justifiably shocked. And yet is doing nothing.

In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.

Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”


There were 5 living former presidents during the onset of the Civil War:

There were five former living presidents in 1860: Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. They were #8, #10, #13, #14, and #15. Lincoln is #16.

Two die in 1862: Van Buren and Tyler, the former having been born in 1782 and the latter in 1790.

Van Buren was a one-term president who served 1837-1841. He did not support the annexation of Texas before or after his presidency, in large part due to the worry about territorial expansion and slavery. In the 1848 election, he headed a political splinter group known as the Free Soilers, who campaigned primarily on ending the spread of slavery into the West. The Free Soil party lost in 1848, and thus Van Buren stepped out of politics. By Lincoln’s election in 1860, he had written his memoirs and traveled the world. He supported Lincoln’s decision to resist secession with force. Considering his anti-annexation and Free Soil beliefs, one can argue that he believed the war was necessary to stop the spread of slavery out West. He hadn’t voted for Lincoln, but he didn’t believe that the sitting president (Buchanan) had the proper ideas in responding to secession. [Fun fact: he died just after Union forces captured New Orleans and as the Confederacy crossed the Potomac, causing Union troops to rush to D.C. to protect it.] Source: The Miller Center.

Tyler was also a one-term president. He had been the Vice President, but William Henry Harrison died in office in 1841 from pneumonia (and possibly an overdose of one of the medicines given to him). Tyler served from 1841-1845. He was a Whig when in the White House, but ultimately the party rejected him because he was so pro-state’s-rights, and he removed himself from politics. He remained reclusive in a Virginia plantation he named “Sherwood Forest” (because he’d been outlawed by his party; he thought himself like Robin Hood). When the Civil War seemed eminent, he re-appeared and headed the Virginia Peace Convention. This convention in 1861 after seven states had already seceded. It was intended to negotiate a way to avoid war. Tyler was chosen to represent Virginia, which was a slave-holding “swing state,” to speak to President Buchanan about the matter. Tyler had then suggested the Peace Convention. It did not work, because everyone disagreed on what parts of slavery to limit and where, and, even though they sent a proposed bill to Congress, the Senate voted against it. Afterward, Tyler was chosen again to represent Virginia – this time to their secession convention. He chose secession. He did not believe much violence would occur. He joined the Provisional Confederate Congress and was then elected to their House. He was on his way to the opening sessions of the Confederate Congress in early 1862 when he fell ill and collapsed. He lingered a week then died. Sources: John Tyler, Champion of the Old South and John Tyler: The Accidental President.

The other three all lived through the Civil War: Millard Fillmore dies in 1874, Franklin Pierce dies in 1869, and James Buchanan dies in 1868.

Fillmore was also a one-term president. He served from 1850-1853. Like Tyler, he had been Vice President, but his President (Zachary Taylor) had died in office (he died of digestive troubles; there’s a lot of myth and conspiracy about it). Unlike Van Buren, Fillmore did not oppose the spread of slavery into the West, and he supported the Compromise of 1850 (which may have defused tensions briefly, but it certainly upheld some of the nastier parts of slavery and encouraged others, such as the Fugitive Slave Act). When Fillmore left the presidency, he joined the Know Nothing, or American, Party because he refused to join the Republican party (which was the party of Lincoln and other anti-slavery folks). To be clear, the Know Nothing or American Party is in strong opposition to immigration and Catholicism; it’s pretty much their entire platform. You may remember this party from Gangs of New York – they were the men with the blue bands on their hats and waists. In 1856, he was the Know Nothing presidential candidate, and he garnered about 21% of the popular vote which put him in third. During the Civil War, Fillmore remained in New York, but did not support Lincoln, though he became a “staunch Unionist.” He led a home-guard militia of men over 45 who had not gone into combat (called the Union Continentals) to protect the area if the Confederates ever came that north. After the War, Fillmore supported Andrew Johnson’s lenient measures towards the South. Source: The White House and The Miller Center. Here’s an image of him as a Union Continental in the Civil War. You can read about his experiences in the Civil War as the Union Continental commander here in a free ebook.

Pierce was yet another one-term president. He served from 1853-1857. He is considered one of the worst presidents in American history. Why? Well, a number of reasons. The first is the less well known Ostend Manifesto, which basically was a document suggesting that the U.S. buy Cuba from Spain and, if Spain refused to sell, the U.S. should go to war. The second was and still is the most controversial: he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which further divided the country as they sought to figure out slavery in the West. His acquisition of southwestern land for railroads aggravated the situation even more, as settlers rushed out west and fell into conflict with each other almost immediately over the issue of slavery. These all turned much of America against Pierce while he was in office. When he left the presidency in 1857, he did what many other former presidents do and traveled abroad. He returned to America in 1859. Now realize that Pierce’s Secretary of War is Jefferson Davis, who would become the Confederacy’s President. Pierce had been persuaded by Davis several times when he was president. Now that the war itself was starting, he continued correspondence with Davis. Some of their letters were leaked during the war, which further alienated him from many. Throughout the Civil War, Pierce rejected Lincoln (they were in opposing parties, Pierce = Democrat, Lincoln = Republican), but he did support the Union. Still, he openly and repeatedly blamed the war on Lincoln, and, this combined with his letters to Davis, cost him dearly. Apparently, when he died, little was said about him or his passing. Sources: The White House, The Miller Center, and here’s one of his letters to Davis in 1861.

And finally, Buchanan, who was ALSO a one-term president, serving between 1857-1861. So much has been written about his views on the Civil War, it’s hard not to write a book about it. I’ll be short with him, because you can easily find information about his views. In summary, Buchanan was the president when the storm of the Civil War was brewing. If Pierce knew hell was on the horizon, then Buchanan was feeling heat, and Lincoln was the one who roasted. Buchanan did his best to deal with the upcoming conflict, but he probably aggravated matters. He was of the opinion that slavery was a state’s (and territory’s) issue, not federal, and they should decide if slavery would be present. He was the president during the Dred Scott decision, which said that slaves had no rights under the Constitution and the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Buchanan had encouraged a Northern Supreme Court justice to join in opinion with the Southern ones, and thus, the Dred Scott decision came to be. He urged all American citizens to follow the decision in his Inaugural Address. Then, of course, there was Bleeding Kansas, a situation which he also aggravated by endorsing a proslavery constitution from the state. During the 1860 election, which he didn’t run in as he had promised, things fell apart.

As The Miller Center explains: “Buchanan, ever conciliatory, tried not to alienate anyone—either secessionist or unionist—but pleased no one. The outgoing President seemed at a loss to take any action against the South, which only emboldened the new Confederacy. All Southerners in his cabinet resigned. Secretary of State Lewis Cass quit too, disgusted with Buchanan’s inaction in the crisis. The President did little, fearful of provoking the South; yet he angered the South by refusing to relinquish Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. While his inaction averted war for the time being, it also enabled the new Confederate government to begin operations. Buchanan seemed eager to get out of the White House before the real disasters ensued.”

Buchanan encountered serious criticism after he left office. His portrait had to be removed from the White House because vandals kept damaging it, and posters appeared in numerous places with caricatures of him in a hangman’s noose with the caption “Judas” and sometimes “Traitor.” He tried to express his support for the Union cause, but many did not believe him (which makes sense, because there’s also evidence he supported the Confederacy). He published a book after the war blaming it on Republicans and abolitionists. Much like Tyler, he too became a recluse, rarely seeing anyone. He died in 1868 of respiratory failure, leaving behind a complicated legacy. Sources: The Miller Center


Hobby Lobby SCOTUS Ruling:

The Supreme Court ruling on BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL. v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC. has now opened up the precedent (ignoring how narrowly tailored the ruling was to only contraception) that under the RFRA, even if its a compelling government interest, the state cannot mandate any firm with sincere religious beliefs to carry out a requirement, so long as the government can pick up the slack? It seems like the least restrictive means will always be making the government do it instead and not restrict at all anyone’s religious beliefs.

On page 46 of the opinion, Alito writes: “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.”

This certainly leaves open the possibility that the Court could rule differently on the “least restrictive means” issue in the future, but his language in section V-B, which discusses the “least restrictive means” test, seems to indicate that it is a difficult standard to pass. On page 41 of the opinion, he indicates that “the most straightforward way of [meeting the least restrictive means test] would be for the Government to assume the cost.” He also says that “HHS has not shown … that this is not a viable alternative.” This seems to indicate that if such a challenge were to come up regarding vaccination or blood transfusions, or whatever else, the burden would be on the Department of Health and Human Services to show that it would be impractical for the Government to cover the cost. That would be quite the burden for the Government to prove.

Ginsberg seems to agree with that reading in her dissent. On page 29 on the dissent, she writes, “And where is the stopping point to the ‘let the government pay’ alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, … or according women equal pay for substantially similar work…? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?” In addition to indicating that the Court’s logic could prove problematic in the future, she asserts that it is flawed at present, saying, “In sum, in view of what Congress sought to accomplish, i.e., comprehensive preventive care for women furnished through employer-based health plans, none of the proffered alternatives would satisfactorily serve the compelling interests to which Congress responded.”

I agree with Justice Ginsberg on many points here, especially the last few pages of her dissent. Justice Alito attempts to narrow his ruling as much as possible, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered as to the basis for his narrow ruling. To me, the most compelling arguments come from sections III-4 and IV (pages 27-35) of Ginsberg’s dissent. She basically asserts that the Court’s ruling has much broader implications than it intends, and poses quite a few questions about the basis for the narrow ruling.

I am also inclined to agree with her reasoning that the Court should have no business in determining which religious views are legitimate and which are not, and that religious exemptions from generally applicable law should be reserved for groups that are organized “for a religious purpose” and/or “engaged primarily in carrying out that religious purpose”.

The Supreme Court ruling can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-354_olp1.pdf

Justice Ginsburg’s dissent here: http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/231974154


RB-36H Peacemaker of the 72nd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Heavy (51-13741) flying over San Francisco Bay; ca.1954

 

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The original concept was intended to bomb Germany from bases in North America because the US thought that Britain would fall to the Nazis. (Source)

A Convair B-36H sitting next to a B-29 Superfortress, for scale:

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