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On this day in 1868, John Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, asked Americans to set aside May 30 “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The holiday, initially known as Decoration Day, later evolved into Memorial Day.

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[spoiler, of course]
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Via wryandstanley comes this useful tidbit:

A few weeks ago, I botched some minor thing at work. No big deal, and I was chided mildly via e-mail. I said the basic “thanks for the heads up” sort of thing, adding “must’ve been a brain fart”, only to wince at the expression “brain fart”.

Seemed a bit crude for this situation, yet I wanted something light-hearted and silly to note that I was indeed taking the suggestion in-stride. (Yes, sadly, sometimes in life, this sort of gesture is necessary.)

Hence was born: “brain burp”!

I’ve been using it ever since, and I invite you to use it as you see fit.

Thanks, I will. Especially because this very thing (well, not exactly, but close enough) happened to me last week. And I found myself totally at a loss for how to describe the origin of my screw-up. See, that’s just what I mean: when “screw-up” is too crass by half, “brain burp” may be just the ticket.

WASHINGTON, May 29.—With American flags flying before them, sixteen truckloads of war veterans came to the end of a transcontinental hitch-hike today with the avowed purpose of remaining in Washington until Congress pays their bonus in full. (NYT)

Thus, in 1932, began the encampment of the Bonus Army, which numbered some thousands of marchers, in Washington, DC.

Their story was simple: in the old days, Congress had to make special provision for the slew of veterans created each time the US had a war. In 1924 it voted those who served in the Great War a payment, or bonus, sized to the time they’d spent in uniform; a dollar a day for service in the US and $1.26 a day for service overseas, plus interest, minus discharge pay. The payments were payable at time of death, or in 1945.

With the depression deepening, a fair number of veterans thought it might be nice for Congress to pay a little early. After all, Washington had just created a special bailout fund for the banks and other major corporations like railroads (the Reconstruction Finance Corporation) and as Charles Coughlin, the radio priest and not-yet-clearly-anti-Semitic populist said,

If the government can pay $2 billion to the bankers and the railroads, why cannot it pay the $2 billion to the soldiers?

Because it would break the bank, Congress said. And the president, Herbert Hoover, thought the same. Maybe most interestingly, so did the president’s chief challenger, Franklin Roosevelt.

Hoover, as was his wont, made a bad situation worse. Rather than glad-hand the men encamped near the Mall and occasionally marching—to the cheers of a hundred thousand onlookers—Hoover spurned them, and eventually let General Douglas MacArthur run off the Bonus Army with tanks and tear gas, burning their shanties and tents. Leading a cavalry group, George Patton contemplated what a fine, “comforting” sound the sabers made hitting the marchers.

Hoping Americans might side with authority, Hoover and MacArthur explained that the fellows on the Mall weren’t really veterans at all, but a bunch of lousy Commie subversives. As MacArthur said, they were

insurrectionists … if there was one man in ten in that group today who was a veteran, it would surprise me…. They were animated by the spirit of revolution…. they were about to take over the government… had the President not acted today, had he permitted this thing to go on for twenty-four hours more, he would have been faced with a grave situation which would have caused a real battle.

Unfortunately for MacArthur and Hoover, government agencies sent to survey the encampment had already concluded otherwise, discovering that 94% of the marchers were simply out-of-luck veterans. Twenty percent were disabled. People watching the army in action on the newsreel identified with the former soldiers, not the current ones. As FDR said, reading the papers, he would feel sorry for Hoover if he didn’t feel sorry for the marchers; it didn’t look good for the president’s electoral prospects. Indeed, the picture of the out-of-work, run out of town by an unsympathetic government, “made a theme for the campaign,” Roosevelt thought.

The Bonus Army came back once Roosevelt was elected. He sent Eleanor out to have a chat with them—be sure to tell them Franklin sent you, Louis Howe instructed her—but he didn’t favor paying them their bonus. The difference in style between Hoover and Roosevelt was remarkable, and the substantive difference was non-negligible: the army under FDR didn’t kill or maim the veterans. But neither did the government under FDR pay them. Remember, FDR remained, throughout the New Deal, a fiscal conservative leery of deficits and of direct payments to citizens. In 1936—many deficits and work relief payments later—Congress passed a Veterans’ Bonus over FDR’s veto.

NPR has a story here, with a link to some newsreel footage. Here‘s a Library of Congress webcast, featuring Paul Dickson and Thomas Allen, the authors of this recent book. Roger Daniels’s Bonus March is worth your time, as is Lucy Barber’s Marching on Washington. And of course, for all things Great Depression and New Deal, this is a fine starting point.

Via Mark Thoma, this latest installment in Americans’ decreasing height. Whenever I mention this to a certain kind of person, they wave a hand and say, oh, it’s because of Latin American and Asian immigration.

But it’s not, if you remember the feature on Komlos in The New Yorker:

The obvious answer would seem to be immigration. The more Mexicans and Chinese there are in the United States, the shorter the American population becomes. But the height statistics that Komlos cites include only native-born Americans who speak English at home, and he is careful to screen out people of Asian and Hispanic descent. In any case, according to Richard Steckel, who has also analyzed American heights, the United States takes in too few immigrants to account for the disparity with Northern Europe.

We have bad habits and bad institutions. These bad habits and bad institutions have consequences.

On this day in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, a vaguely written piece of legislation later used as a pretext by state and federal authorities to dispossess the few remaining tribes in the southeastern United States — “removing” them to lands west of the Mississippi.

Beginning in the summer of 1829, following the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands, the State of Georgia’s longstanding desire to rid itself of the tribe became more urgent than ever. In December of that year, the state legislature ruled that the Cherokee constitution and laws would be meaningless come the following June. Georgia’s lawmakers implied that it would be open season on the Cherokees and their landholdings at that time. The federal government, then, had just a few months to avert what surely would have been another horrifying chapter in the already-grim story of Native-white relations in the United States. Andrew Jackson, who had long favored removal, seized the chance to advance his pet policy.

It wouldn’t be easy. By that time, Protestant evangelicals had taken an interest in the Cherokees, holding them up as the most civilized of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (along with the Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Seminoles). The Cherokees had “civilized” themselves by adopting sedentary agriculture, a tribal constitution modeled on the U.S.’s, a written alphabet (see above), and, in some cases, Christianity. Reformers — including Catherine Beecher, who rallied women to the cause — organized a huge petition drive to counter President Jackson’s lobbying.

Jackson responded by casting support for removal as humanitarian and paternalistic. Observing the mistreatment of Native people throughout the nation’s history, Jackson claimed to want “to preserve this much-injured race.” At the same time, he packed the House and Senate committees that would write the removal bill with his loyalists. On this day in 1830, Jackson had his law, sealing the fate of the eastern tribes.

Jackson had promised that removal would be voluntary, that those Indians who wished to remain in the east would be able to do so, and that those who moved would be compensated for their property. In fact, the pressure to leave was intense, often accompanied by the threat of violence, and Native people who got paid for their land typically only received a fraction of its value. At the same time, Jackson compounded his crimes by setting the precedent of trying to remove tribes on the cheap. Underfunding and federal neglect ultimately led, after Jackson left office, to tragedies like the Trail of Tears, when, in 1838, thousands of Cherokees died en route to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. In the end, Jackson only forestalled the bloodletting that he claimed to want to avoid in 1830, putting off the carnage and relocating it to the West, where relatively few whites had to confront the horror.

In the Congressional debates surrounding removal, Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who opposed the measure, had asked: “Do the obligations of justice change with the color of the skin?” For Andrew Jackson the answer was yes.

Charlie asked a while back, “Can anyone explain–or point to an article where this is discussed–why Clinton was on the MI ballot, but not Obama?” Mr. Super has an answer, in “Florida & Michigan Timeline – How we got here.” From the Politico last fall,

“We will honor the pledge and not campaign or spend money in any state that is not in compliance with the DNC calendar, but it is not necessary to take the steps necessary to remove Senator Clinton’s name from the ballot,” said her communications director, Howard Wolfson.

Basically, Obama and Edwards appear to have interpreted their pledges not to campaign in states holding unsanctioned early primaries as meaning they should get off the Michigan ballot; they couldn’t get off the Florida ballot because it seems a candidate has to be on the primary ballot to be on the general ballot in Florida. Clinton (and Dodd) appear to have decided their pledge did not bind them to get off the Michigan ballot. When asked about this decision, Clinton said,

“It’s clear, this election they’re having is not going to count for anything…. But I just personally did not want to set up a situation where the Republicans are going to be campaigning between now and whenever, and then after the nomination, we have to go in and repair the damage to be ready to win Michigan in 2008.”

I am not sure exactly what this means; perhaps that Clinton assumed she would be the nominee, and wanted Michigan’s Democratic delegates in her corner, rather than left in some sort of purgatory, while the state’s Republican delegates endured no such snub.

Today’s “This Day in History” comes from Andrew W. Cohen, also known here as AWC, among whose many fine qualities we cannot discern the desire to agree with me. He is the author of the excellent Racketeer’s Progress and here he explains the Schechter case doesn’t mean what the New Deal’s modern Republican critics think it means. Many thanks for the contribution, Andrew.

On this day in 1935, the US Supreme Court handed down A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, the so-called “Sick Chicken case,” invalidating the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA). The unanimous court held that the US Congress had unlawfully delegated its powers to the executive and exceeded its authority by regulating commerce that did not cross state lines. This setback for the Roosevelt administration marked the end of the “First New Deal.”

Few scholars lament this verdict, partly because the court later reversed its worst implications, and partly because the NIRA itself was an ugly law. In a year of legal experiments, it was the Frankenstein’s monster. The law created the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which encouraged businesses and workers to write industrial codes and gave them the legitimacy of laws. As a recovery policy, it was a bust. When un-enforced, the codes seemed a pointless exercise in rah-rah economics, the 1930s equivalent of Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” buttons. When compulsory, the codes appeared a counterproductive and intrusive form of corporatism. In retrospect, the law’s best legacy was its support for collective bargaining, which was re-created more effectively by the Wagner Act of 1935.

Historical contempt for NIRA has faded our memory of the Schechter decision, allowing journalists like Amity Shlaes to misrepresent the story as a libertarian fable. In Shlaes’ portrayal, the Schechter brothers were small immigrant businessmen crushed by a tyrannical federal government exceeding its traditional jurisdiction.

The real story is much more interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

With all this talk that Obama’s the antichrist, shouldn’t we be just a bit more vigilant and at least read up on the subject. Go here for further information.

Via Alterdestiny.

In the above speech, which is long but worth the time, Obama appeals to graduating seniors to embrace public service. He asks them directly, personally, to forego the fruits of our “money culture.” And he draws on a classic Second Great Awakening formulation: individual salvation hinges on good works; community salvation rests on individuals sacrificing for the greater good. Even after seven years of kleptocracy, this speech makes me think that civic virtue might not be dead after all. That’s the audacity of hope talking, I know. I’ll get over it soon enough.

A reader just sent me this clip of Liz Trotta — who’s apparently a contributor to Fox News — casually, and with a chuckle, suggesting that it would be a “good idea” for somebody to kill both Osama and Obama, people she apparently can’t tell apart. Is it possible that she’s trying to make Senator Clinton look good by comparison?


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On this day in 1865 the U.S. Army paraded through Washington, DC, to mark the end of the Civil War. The nation had a million men in uniform, enrolled in an army that the world’s military men envied and feared. To many students of the war, this army was the emblem of what the war had wrought—a modern state. The United States government had grown in size and capacity, had levied its first income tax, and had become a nation-state at last. And here was the great instrument of that state, a citizen-army.

Here’s a less picturesque picture: the number of men in U.S. uniform 1865-1900.

That fearsome army vanished almost instantly and didn’t return. The U.S. fought a quarter century of wars against the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent, and a few more wars against labor unions, with a tiny professional force. And just as the great modern army went away, so did the great modern state. What remained of the war-swollen federal apparatus? The Department of Agriculture, pretty much. Pretty much everything else—even, or especially, the machinery for enforcing civil rights—was similarly reduced. It wouldn’t be till after World War II that such establishments of state power became more or less permanent. So inasmuch as the Civil War ended slavery, it was a watershed—but the other trends it’s often credited with (or blamed for) establishing, it didn’t establish. The pattern of American development 1865-1914—a lot of growth with a little government—is thus an even odder story: it wasn’t the case that Americans had never seen or used modern state power, it was the case that they had, and preferred not to.

A short while ago I appalled some of my more genteel colleagues by quoting former Louisiana governor, convicted felon, and political genius Edwin Edwards. Clinton’s justification for staying in the race, I said, has come down to the possibility of a “live boy/dead girl” scenario. Tuts were tutted, and I blushed, feeling duly chastened.

But Senator Clinton has gone well beyond me and Edwards:

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don’t understand it,” she said, dismissing the idea of dropping out.

Tut some tuts, will you, decent people? I’m about all out.

On this day in 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina approached Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts while the latter sat at his desk in the Senate chamber. As Sumner affixed postage to copies of “The Crime Against Kansas,” a speech he had given earlier that week, Brooks explained that the address had been a “libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

“Mr. Butler” referred to Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, Brooks’s cousin and one of the figures Sumner, in his stem-winder, had excoriated for supporting the abominable Kansas-Nebraska Act. After explaining his business with the Senator, Brooks began caning Sumner, who tried to rise and flee but found himself trapped beneath his desk, which was bolted to the floor. Struggling wildly as Brooks continued raining blows down upon his head, Sumner finally wrenched the desk from its moorings. He then collapsed in a pool of his own blood.

Sumner, in his speech, had been rather hard on the superannuated Butler. The abolitionist had called the South Carolinian a “Don Quixote who had chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows…the harlot, Slavery.” Sumner also had said that Butler, who drooled and suffered from a tremor as a result of a stroke, “discharged the loose expectorations of his speech” when supporting slavery.

Steeped in the aristocratic South’s honor culture, Brooks found these insults intolerable. He also viewed Sumner as a social inferior and so chose not to challenge him to a duel. Instead, he beat Sumner as an overseer would beat a slave.

Many Southerners recognized that Brooks had defended not only his family’s reputation but also the region’s good name. Editors at the pro-slavery Richmond Examiner, for instance, opined that the violence represented an:

act good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequence. The vulgar Abolitionists in the Senate are getting above themselves…They have grown saucy, and dare to be impudent to gentlemen…The truth is, they have been suffered to run too long without collars. They must be lashed into submission.

Brooks thus became a hero in the South, where people apparently begged him for fragments of his shattered cane, “sacred relics.” He received from admirers dozens of new walking sticks, often inscribed with pithy phrases (“Hit Him Again”). And although some of his colleagues in the House tried to expel him, they failed to reach the required two-thirds majority because of the Southern delegation’s sectional loyalties. Brooks then quit to make a point, re-running for his seat and allowing the people of South Carolina to return him to Washington with their blessing.

For Northerners, many of whom had no love for radical abolitionists, the caning of Sumner nonetheless joined the Sack of Lawrence — an episode in which approximately 800 pro-slavery terrorists had burned parts of that town, the center of free-soil Kansas — which had taken place just a day earlier. Even for moderates, the two events, in concert, demonstrated that the Slaveocracy could not be placated, no matter how many times the North compromised to forestall secession.

John Brown was no moderate. He had been rushing to defend Lawrence when the town fell. The violence there, coupled with the caning of Sumner, next led him to embrace biblical justice gone mad. By his calculation, border ruffians had already killed at least five free-soilers in Kansas. And so, two days after Brooks pummeled Sumner, Brown kidnapped five pro-slavery settlers from their homes near Pottawatomie Creek. That night, he split their skulls open with broadswords. The nation slipped headlong toward war, the skids greased with martyrs’ blood.

One of Josh Marshall’s “shrewdest readers” offers a contrarian reading of Hillary Clinton’s record. Shrewdest Reader reminds us that

After the 2000 election, she called for the abolition of the electoral college. “I believe strongly,” she said, “that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people.” She argued then that “the total votes cast for a person running for president in our country should determine the outcome.” Sound familiar?

Shrewdest Reader then says that when, contrariwise, the Clinton campaign agreed to cut Florida and Michigan out of the nominating process, she had at that time “lost her bearings” but now, SR argues, she has returned to true course, because “the dictates of her conscience and of political expedience have at last converged.” Clinton “is finally giving voice to the grievances that she’s long held back,” and on the belief that she “could not have lost a fair fight for the nomination,” this has changed from a mere campaign: “This really has become a moral crusade for her[.]” Clinton is a true majoritarian, momentarily distracted in the intraparty rules disputes of 2007 from her principles, now returned to her true and noble purpose.

<BREEET> Two fouls: (1) omitting relevant evidence and (2) bad counterfactualizing.

(1) Omitting relevant evidence. Yes, Clinton in the autumn of 2000 called for abolishing the electoral college. Far from seeming the unalloyed “dictates of her conscience,” this too looks like “political expedience.” Clinton made this call well before Bush v. Gore, early in November of 2000. At that time, crying up the illegitimacy of the electoral college served a clear political function, urging the Congress, the Court, and various mucks to award Gore the presidency based on his national popular vote majority, whatever the Florida count turned out to say.

Clinton may indeed believe we should amend the Constitution to satisfy her deep majoritarian principles, but she hasn’t said much about it since 2000; she must have had other priorities.

(2) Bad counterfactualizing: Clinton “could not have lost a fair fight for the nomination.” Not entirely clear whether it’s SR, or SR ventriloquizing Clinton, but either way, it’s a load of cobblers’. In “a fair fight,” both candidates would know the rules in advance, plan their campaigns accordingly, and abide by the rules as they went. Had the party determined that Florida and Michigan were to count, you can bet Obama would have campaigned there. Had the party held a snap one-day nationwide primary vote for the nomination, you can bet both candidates would have designed very different campaigns than they have. But it’s just foolish to say that because Obama and Clinton have campaigned as they have and achieved these results under these rules, that they would have done the same under different rules. This is counterfactualizing of the sort that merits the reply, “yes, and if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass a-hoppin’.”

Seriously, Marshall, I’m going to have to hope this isn’t your Shrewdest Reader’s shrewdest analysis.

I can say that if you liked the other Indiana Jones movies, you will like this one, and that if you did not, there is no talking to you.

[Editor’s Note: Kathy Olmsted is back for another guest post. Hurrah!]

On this day in 1979, Dan White, former police officer, fire fighter, and San Francisco County Supervisor, was sentenced to seven years in prison for assassinating two public officials, one of them openly gay. The lenient sentence provoked riots in San Francisco, a movement for tough sentencing laws, and, eventually, a revolution in attitudes toward gays and lesbians.

In the 1970s, thousands of gays and lesbians moved to San Francisco, which was becoming the gay mecca of the west coast. White represented conservative, working-class residents who resented the ways that their city was changing. He clashed many times with Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, a national leader in the gay rights movement and the first openly gay elected local official of any large city in the United States. In November 1978, White resigned from the board of supervisors in a fit of pique, and then asked Moscone to reappoint him. Milk advised Moscone not to do so. On November 28, 1978, White entered San Francisco city hall through a window, apparently to avoid a metal detector. After a brief conversation with Moscone, White shot the mayor dead. Then he reloaded his gun and went to Milk’s office, where he executed his political opponent by shooting him in the head.

Milk’s friends were worried about the trial from the beginning. Although White’s “twinkie defense” seemed laughable (his lawyer argued that White had not known what he was doing because excessive junk food consumption had altered his brain chemistry), some jurors seemed compassionate to the killer. They wept openly in sympathy when his tape-recorded confession was played in court. If he had just killed Moscone, observers at the trial believed, he would have gotten the death penalty. But by killing Milk, he seemed to trigger the homophobia of the jury. The manslaughter verdict enraged thousands of San Franciscans, who gathered at city hall. “He got away with murder!” the crowd chanted, as people began to break windows and set police cars on fire.

California soon got rid of the “diminished capacity” or “twinkie” defense, and began passing draconian sentencing laws, culminating in 1994 with Three Strikes. White was released in 1984, and committed suicide less than two years later.

This week, Mark Leno, one of several openly gay members of the California State Legislature, succeeded in persuading the Assembly to pass a bill designating May 22, Milk’s birthday, as “Harvey Milk Day.” If it gets through the Senate, Gov. Schwarzenegger may well sign it. And last week, the California Supreme Court voted to legalize gay marriage. The four-member majority included three justices appointed by conservative Republican governors.

[Editor’s Update: You can find an account of the White Night Riot here.]

It’s hard to figure quite how to interpret this passage, from Max Hastings’s Retribution. It’s a bit lengthy, but I didn’t want you to think I was fooling around with ellipses or paragraph breaks. This is just as printed:

Col. Derek Horsford observed that though his Gurkhas had little regard for the unfortunate Africans as fighting soldiers—”they would go out on patrol only if you held their hands”—they were impressed by other attributes. “During the advance into the Kabaw valley, I found some of our chaps crouching behind a bush, watching a party of West African soldiers bathing. The Gurkhas were gazing fascinated, uttering exclamations of unwilling awe, at what they perceived as the extravagant dimensions of their black comrades’ private parts.” There was much bitterness after the war that in [General Bill] Slim’s expressions of gratitude to his soldiers, he never mentioned the Africans.

From pp. 83-84.

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