a brief history of the Fleming clan

My daughter started asking me questions about our family’s ancestors this evening. I don’t know much, but I told her what I know.
 
fleming_largeThe Fleming family name obviously originates in Flanders, a region that was at various times controlled by France, Spain and the Netherlands, but it got its start as part of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar called the region Gallia Belgica, including it as part of Gaul, and called its inhabitants Belgae.
 
As the Roman Empire went through its lengthy dissolution, Flanders was part of mainland Europe known colloquially as the Saxon Shore, mainly because it was frequently attacked by the Saxons from across the Channel in England.
 
It should come as no surprise, then, that when William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, put the word out in 1066 that he wasn’t pleased with the ascension of Harold Godwinson to the throne of England following the death of King Edward and planned to invade England, the natives of Flanders – known as the Flemish – eagerly stepped up to support William’s initiative.
 
(William felt his claim to the throne was stronger than that of King Harald of Norway (Harald Hardrada). King Harold defeated King Harald’s army, killing Harald in the process, but Duke William subsequently defeated (and killed) King Harold, taking the throne of England for himself after the famous Battle of Hastings… but you probably already knew that.)
 
After William – now called the Conqueror instead of the Bastard – successfully consolidated power in England, he distributed land grants to his loyal followers, including the nobles from Flanders who helped him.
 
Henry II (Plantagenet), who was William’s great-grandson, invaded Ireland in 1171 to counteract moves being made by Richard de Clare, known as Richard Strongbow. Henry won the short war, but let Strongbow live and even granted him territory to help bring the other Irish nobles in line under his control.
 
When the Irish kingdom of Meath refused to submit, Henry II simply acknowledged their steadfastness and granted that territory to Hugh de Lacy, a prominent Norman noble. Baron Lacy spent the rest of his life (d. 1186) trying to gain military control of Meath in the name of the king. It depends on who you talk to as to how successful he was.
 
Now, you may wonder why I’ve taken this sideways spin into English-Irish history. Well, patient reader, here’s why you’ve stuck it out this long.

The Flemish, being the loyalists they were, answered Henry II’s call to arms for the invasion of Ireland. Their reward for their loyalty and lives was land grants across Ireland, and indeed, there are Flemings in nearly every county of that fine land to this day. However, my particular branch of the family was loyal to Baron Lacy and set about helping him attempt to pacify Meath.

Other branches of the Flemish clans stayed in England, and still others migrated to Scotland over the years. As the centuries progressed, Flanders became a center of European textile technology and manufacture, with Flemish weavers in high demand across the continent – and especially in England, Scotland and Ireland, leading to a wave of people named Fleming coming to England. Of course, they didn’t get the name Fleming until they got there, because once the King of England established the Poll Tax (a kind of income tax), everybody had to have a last name.

The Flemings loyal to Baron Lacy found themselves on the outs, royal-favor-wise, when they backed James II in his bid to unseat William (of William and Mary) in 1690, but by then the Flemings were well entrenched in Ireland.

It’s entirely possible that my branch of the Fleming family traces its roots back to one John Fleming, who attended a church rite in 1435 in Slane, County Meath, and signed his name spelled with one ‘m’ to an official document. This was not the normal spelling at the time, the common spelling having the distinctive ‘mm’ in the middle.
From what I remember from my Grandmother Fleming’s genealogical research, a number of Flemings fled Meath during the Potato Famine and settled in the Midwest, spanning from western Pennsylvania, through Ohio and on to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

It was at this point that my daughter – remember why I started telling this story in the first place? – declared that she is going to tell people she is “Ohirish with a little Mexican thrown in.” I told her I can live with that.

Now, besides me, you may have heard of a number of Flemings. My clansmen and women have made great contributions to the world. Here’s a rundown of Flemings You Should Know.

  • Peggy Fleming – figure skater who won Olympic gold in 1968, but perhaps most well-known as the object of Snoopy’s love from the late 1960s through the early 1970s
  • Ian Fleming – creator of James Bond. Duh.
  • Valentine Fleming – Ian’s father and a casualty of World War One; the major was a close friend of Winston Churchill and died as a result of German action at Gillemont Farm in May 1917. He was a Member of Parliament at the time, and Churchill wrote his obituary.
  • Alexander Fleming – Scottish scientist who discovered penicillin
  • Renée Fleming – opera singer (and a damn good one)
  • Thomas Fleming – the Archbishop of Dublin from 1623 until his death in 1655
  • Valerie Fleming – two-time Olympic gold-medal winner in the 2-person bobsled in 2006; she also earned 8 silver medals and 8 bronzes over the years
  • Richard Fleming – USMC/USN Captain, KIA in his Vindicator dive bomber in action against the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma during the Battle of Midway and subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor
  • Williamina Fleming – astronomer who discovered the Horsehead Nebula in 1888 (we claim her even though she married into the clan)
  • Lord David Fleming – a prominent Scottish judge and author of the Fleming Report, which led to public funding for elementary schools
  • John Fleming, the 2nd Lord Fleming – killed in a duel by a guy called Tweedie in 1524
  • Michael Anthony Fleming – a Franciscan monk born in Ireland who became the first Catholic bishop in Newfoundland
  • Dave Fleming – contender for rookie of the year for the Seattle Mariners in 1992
  • Victor Fleming – directed Treasure Island, Captains Courageous, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Joan of Arc, The Wizard of Oz and won an Oscar for Best Director for Gone With the Wind
  • Nancy Fleming – Miss America 1961
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lies, damn lies and statistics

At this point, about one month into the Trump Administration, I’m kind of beyond caring how good or bad a job Donald Trump can or will do. I’m pissed, and I can’t hold it in any longer.

He’s a liar. A lying liar what lies. AND HE LIES ABOUT STUPID SHIT.

On 16 Feb 2017, Trump gave a press conference to announce his new nominee for Secretary of the Department of Labor. He had to do this because his first choice withdrew from consideration after he figured out there wasn’t enough support in committee to get him to a full Senate vote. This is politics, it happens. Not really that big a deal.

The press conference, however, went on… and on… AND ON for 77 minutes. The thing I find myself focusing on is the one massively, obviously disprovable lie he told – and has been telling for weeks.

First he said he won the biggest electoral margin since Reagan.

Wrong.

Then he said he won the biggest electoral margin of any Republican since Reagan.

WRONG.

Here’s the cold, hard facts on every election from Reagan’s first in 1980 through the one we just had in 2016.

  • 2016
    • Trump (R) – 304
    • HR Clinton (D) – 227
    • Ratio of Victory – 1.3:1
  • 2012
    • Obama (D) – 332
    • Romney (R) – 206
    • 1.6:1
  • 2008
    • Obama – 365
    • McCain – 173
    • 2.1:1
  • 2004
    • GW Bush – 286
    • Kerry – 251
    • 1.1:1
  • 2000
    • GW Bush – 271
    • Gore – 266
    • 1.018:1
  • 1996
    • WJ Clinton – 379
    • Dole – 159
    • 2.4:1
  • 1992
    • WJ Clinton – 370
    • GHW Bush – 168
    • 2.2:1
  • 1988
    • GHW Bush – 426
    • Dukakis – 111
    • 3.8:1
  • 1984
    • Reagan – 525
    • Mondale – 13
    • 40.4:1
  • 1980
    • Reagan – 489
    • Carter – 49
    • 10:1

There you have it folks – cold, hard, historical facts. Reagan’s narrowest margin of victory still saw him pull down 91% of the electoral votes. Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton doesn’t even crack the top 10 lowest margin-of-victory contests. Trump got 56.5% of the electoral votes, more than Kennedy (56.4%) but less than Truman (57%). Barack Obama won the closer of his two elections, in 2012, with 61.7% of the electoral votes.

The last Republican to win before Trump was George W. Bush, both of whose victories are in the lowest 10 margin-of-victory elections; the hotly contested 2000 election that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court saw him win with 50.37% of the electoral votes. In his “big” victory in 2004, he got 53.16% of the electoral votes.

The list of presidents who won a higher percentage of electoral votes than Donald Trump reads like a who’s-who list of presidents you never heard of: Van Buren, Garfield, Harrison, Buchanan, McKinley, Polk, Taft, Grant, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover and Pierce.

Quick – can you name one thing – ONE THING – that William Henry Harrison did in office other than die less than 31 days into his presidency? No, you can’t! AND HE WON 79.6% OF THE ELECTORAL VOTES!!

Donald Trump won a higher percentage of the electoral votes than precisely five presidents in the last 100 years: George W. Bush (twice), John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon (1st election), Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson. That’s it. Literally every other president since the 1916 election has won with a higher percentage electoral votes than Trump.

Just so you know, other than George Washington – who got 100% of the electoral votes both times he was elected – the only other presidents to come close to Ronald Reagan’s crushing defeat of Walter Mondale (525 to 13) were James Monroe (1792, 231 to 1), Franklin Roosevelt (1936, his 2nd election, 523 to 8), and Richard Nixon (1972, his 2nd election, 520 to 17). No other president won with a greater than 95% take in the Electoral College.

Every president since Reagan except for GW Bush got a higher percentage of electoral votes than Donald Trump did. There is no disputing these facts. I cannot help but wonder that if Trump is willing to lie about something so quickly and easily disprovable, what else is he willing to lie about?

 

protective tariffs, motorcycles and the beef lobby

In April 1983, President Ronald Reagan ordered a rise in tariffs – taxes on imported or exported goods – on “heavyweight” motorcycles from 4.4 percent to 49.4 percent. If you ever wondered why the 1980s were littered with Japanese motorcycles that topped out at 699cc, now you know why. The tariffs kicked in at 700cc because half of all Japanese motorcycles imported into the US displaced 750cc. This rise in tariffs was based on the 1974 Trade Act, which gave the government broad authority to do exactly this kind of thing to help American companies.

“We’re delighted,” said Vaughn Beals, Harley-Davidson’s chairman at the time. He couched that statement by claiming The Motor Company would improve their manufacturing processes and practices, but we all know that didn’t happen until the introduction of the 80-horsepower Fathead (officially the Twin Cam 88) engine in 1999. The 15-year focus on the 1340cc Evolution engine, released in 1984, ushered out the venerable 1200cc Shovelhead power plants that HD had been relying on since the mid-1960s. The Fathead vibrated so viciously that HD revised it (but not until the 2000 model year), adding counterbalance shafts in an attempt to mollify long-complaining riders.

In other words, Harley had 20 years, give or take, to improve their product, but refused to even make a half-hearted attempt do so until Japanese motorcycles started seriously threatening their market share on America’s highways.

I digress, however, and I do not want you to think this article is out to bash Harley-Davidson. They had 50% of motorcycle registrations in the USA in 2015 for a reason. It is important to note that in 1983, they had only been out from under the disastrous, destructive leadership of AMF for about two years and were struggling for survival. Harley-Davidson is a legitimate American icon, and nothing I say can take that hard-earned status away from them.

Instead, let’s jump back and look at those tariffs. In 1983, the import duty (another word for tax) jumped from 4.4 percent to 49.4 percent. This affected about 20 percent of the over one million motorcycles imported into the USA, and about 80 percent of the motorcycles affected were manufactured in Japan. According to President Reagan’s five-year plan, the tariffs would gradually reduce from 49.4 percent in the first year to 14.4 percent in the fifth, after which they would return to 4.4 percent.

The law carved out an exception for a growing number of motorcycles manufactured in West Germany – our beloved BMWs. By the end of the program, 10,000 German motorcycles would be exempt from the import duties. British and Italian motorcycles (Triumph and Ducati) were also granted a number of exemptions, with up to 9,000 bikes allowed imported at the old 4.4 percent rate by the end of the program.

The justification for these tariffs was twofold. First, the US International Trade Commission determined that imported Japanese motorcycles were hurting Harley-Davidson. Second, Harley testified before the USITC that they planned to start manufacturing motorcycles in the 750cc segment, what today we call a “midweight” motorcycle.

Harley’s 1986 Sportster came in at 883cc, well above the 750cc mark. The only 750cc motorcycle Harley built in the 1980s was the XR750, a well-known flat-track racing bike, which also saw action in other styles of racing. When HD finally made a street version of the XR750 in 1983, they put out a Sportster with a 1000cc engine based on the XR750 design. The bike sold so poorly they made it for just two years, ending its production well before the protective tariff law’s five-year plan expired.

Harley brought back the XR in 2008, with the XR1200, but discontinued that bike after the 2012 model year due to poor sales. (It’s too bad, too, because I rode an XR1200 and it was a fantastic motorcycle.)

The “motorcycle wars” of the 1980s spurred the Big Four – Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha – to innovate. They couldn’t rely on big profits from large-displacement bikes such as Honda’s CBX – a 1047cc six-cylinder behemoth – so they simply stopped making it and many other similar bikes, focusing instead of smaller displacement motorcycles that weren’t affected by the giant tax increase.

In the end, Harley was still making motorcycles, and the Japanese companies were still importing huge numbers of bikes into the US. Nobody really won the motorcycle wars, but nobody really lost, either, except for maybe motorcycle riders who loved big-bore Japanese bikes.

Looking back, we can understand why this all happened.  Harley was hurting after a recession. Their technology was stuck in the previous generation. At the same time, the Japanese and European motorcycle manufacturers were leaping forward as fast as they could – remember, BMW introduced the first ABS-equipped motorcycle (the K 100) in 1988 – and their economies weren’t as hindered by the 1981-82 recession as the USA’s was.  It made sense for Harley to go to the government to ask for help, and the help they got in the form of protective tariffs made sense in the grand economic scheme, even if it ultimately did not show Harley-Davidson a huge amount of benefit.

Which brings us to today. As you may know, Europe’s economy is in a weird holding pattern and right on the verge of chaos. The turmoil comes from a set of poorly performing countries (PIIGS – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and the impending exit of Britain from the EU. There are motorcycles made in those countries, but other than Italy, none of them sport a first-line street bike manufacturer.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that, once again, it seems as if protective tariffs may come to imported motorcycles. This time, however, the target is exclusively European motorcycles. The government institution involved is not the International Trade Commission, but the United States Trade Representative. The reason for the hoped-for protective tariffs is not a flailing Harley-Davidson, but rather the beef industry.

Wait, what?

Since 1981, the European Union has banned the importation of any meat from any animal raised with synthetic hormone treatments; it was a gradual ban that took full effect in 1989. You may have heard of BGH – bovine growth hormone – and substances like that are exactly what they’re keeping out of their food supply. Europe has a troubled history with beef in the 20th century, largely due to several outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as “mad cow disease.” Britain suffered the continent’s worst outbreak of the deadly disease, with millions of cattle slaughtered between 1986 and 1998 to prevent the spread of the disease. While BSE’s causes lie in cows consuming the remains of other cows and not the treatment of cattle with hormones (natural or synthetic), the fact remains that Europe is wary of beef, period, and imported beef is granted a high level of scrutiny.

When the EU’s ban on US beef went into full effect in 1989, the US responded by putting 100% tariffs on a variety of European food products.  Like the 1980s tariffs on imported Japanese motorcycles to protect Harley-Davidson, these tariffs on food make sense. They were a simple tit-for-tat measure to hit back against the EU’s meat ban.

What doesn’t make sense is that the USTR is now considering imposing tariffs on sub-500cc European motorcycles imported into the US over an argument about beef. After losing an appeal to the World Trade Organization, the “beef lobby” seems to think a 100% tariff on all sorts of scooters and dirt bikes as well as street bikes like the KTM RC 390 and BMW G 310 R will force the EU to rethink its ban on hormone-treated meat. This is the third time the beef lobby has tried to get these tariffs imposed; previous attempts in 1999 and 2008 failed.

When it comes to BMW, the proposed tariff is, at best, symbolic. BMW sold 13,730 motorcycles in the USA in 2016 and not a single one of them was under 500cc. BMW announced its first sub-500cc motorcycle since the R 51/3 in 1956 last year, the single-cylinder G 310 R and its sister, the G 310 GS. The 310 R isn’t even expected to make it to dealerships until the third quarter; a 100% tax on it would obviously double its $4,995 price tag and destroy any sales potential the motorcycle has.

The American Motorcycle Association has naturally spoken out against this measure, but it is incumbent upon all American motorcyclists to act when our sport is threatened unreasonably. I am all for protecting American companies when they need the help, but it is unfair to punish European motorcycle manufacturers for the EU’s meat importation policies. The AMA says the 2008 attempt to get these tariffs in place received about 600 thumbs-down comments. If that was all it took to defeat the measure, imagine what we could generate in these politically charged times.

There are three ways you can make your voice heard on this matter:

  1. Point your web browser to the USTR’s website and leave a comment about this measure on the appropriate page, which is https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=USTR-2016-0025-0001. You must do this no later than 30 January 2017.
  2. Attend the public hearing on this issue. The hearing starts at 9.30 in the morning on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 in Rooms 1 and 2 of the US Civil Service Commission building, located at 1724 F Street NW, Washington DC 20508. This building is also known as the US Trade Representative Annex and it is on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. If you attend the hearing, plan ahead and allow plenty of time for the D.C. area’s notoriously terrible traffic. 1724 F St NW is just a few blocks from the White House. Parking is limited. Farragut West is the nearest Metro station.
  3. Contact your federal senator and/or representative in the US Congress and express your opinion on this matter and ask them to get involved. If you don’t know who your senator or representative is, head over to the website whoismyrepresentative.com and plug in your ZIP code.

higbie, korematsu and the internment camp precedent

“It would be legal, and it would hold constitutional muster.”

Carl Higbie said that, and he was talking to a media mouthpiece about Kris Kobach’s ideas to resurrect the NSEERS program – that is, the program to force all visitors and immigrants from a list of 25 mostly Muslim-majority nations to register with the federal government.

“We did it during World War II with the Japanese,” said Higbie, the spokesman for the Great America PAC, which is one of a number of organizations currently licking Donald Trump’s shoes. Higbie went on to assure viewers that he wasn’t proposing internment camps, he was just sayin’ there’s a precedent for it.

He’s absolutely right – there is a precedent. Let’s look at it.

On 19 February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. EO9066 provided for the establishment of “prescribed” military areas from which “any or all persons may be excluded” based on the discretion of the Secretary of War or the “appropriate Military Commander.”

EO9066 was followed about three weeks later by Public Law 503, which received a total of 90 minutes of discussion across both chambers of Congress before it passed. PL503 provided for the “evacuation” of Japanese-Americans from “prescribed” military areas like, oh, all of California. (“Prescribed” in this case means “identified” or “set aside”.)

In the next few months, over 100,000 people – all of Japanese ancestry and over 70,000 of whom were American citizens – were rounded up, deprived of their private property such as homes and businesses by the US government without any sort of due process, and herded into concentration camps across the southwestern states and as far north as Colorado and Utah.

Because about half the population of Hawaii at that time was of Japanese ancestry, the government decided it would be too much of a hassle to round them up, so they only ever removed a few thousand folks from Hawaii. Logistics trump racism, I guess.

Despite concerns about sabotage and/or espionage performed by these folks, not one of these prisoners was ever convicted on any sabotage or espionage charges. None of them. NOT. ONE. Two separate government investigations into the possibility of sabotage and/or espionage on the part of the interned people showed no evidence of any such intent or effort.

In addition to the Japanese-Americans thrown into concentration camps by this action, about 10,000 German-Americans (including some Jews) and a few thousand Italian-Americans were also sent to camps. Most Americans of European ancestry didn’t stay in the camps long, but a few lingered into 1946, when the camps were finally shut down.

In December 1944, President Roosevelt rescinded EO9066 and ordered the prisoners released. Most of them ended up in resettlement camps until they could reestablish themselves. They lost their homes, businesses, other property and any money they’d had in banks – all of it gone.

That’s all background, because that’s what happened. That’s not where Higbie gets his precedent from.

A man called Fred Korematsu decided he wasn’t going to go quietly to a prison camp, so he evaded capture by hiding out with friends in Oakland, California. He was caught and arrested in late May 1942, and a lawyer called Wayne M. Collins took up his case. (Note: The ACLU stayed out of this so they wouldn’t look bad during wartime.) Korematsu posted bail, but was detained by military police anyway and held in a military jail in San Francisco until his court date in September. He was convicted of violating Public Law 503 and sentenced to probation; after that, of course, he was sent to one of the concentration camps.

(We didn’t call them that in 1942, of course – or even prison camps. We called them internment camps. Softer language because let’s not compare ourselves to the Nazis, after all. “But wait!” I hear you cry. “The US government didn’t know about those German concentration camps in 1942!” Yeah, you’re wrong about that. The US government did know about standard German concentration camps in 1942. It was much later in the war when information about the death camps started to trickle out of Poland. The typical prison-style concentration camps weren’t at all secret. The first one was built in early 1933 near Munich. Everybody knew about it, including the US government. It was because the US government knew about the concentration camps for so long that when word about the death camps started to come out, as horrifying as that was, the government believed those existed, too.)

Korematsu’s appeals eventually made their way to the US Supreme Court, where the justices voted 6-3 that, while “constitutionally suspect,” EO9066 and PL503 were justified “during circumstances of emergency and peril.” (Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944))

THAT, my friends, is the precedent. Roosevelt ordered it, Congress backed it, and the Supreme Court affirmed it. The Justice Department filed a notice in 2011 that the Solicitor General’s defense of the government’s position was in error, but the case has never been overturned.

(The Solicitor General at the time was Charles Fahy, and it was his job to take the government’s side in the case. It has long been suspected that Fahy unethically withheld the Office of Naval Intelligence report that concluded there was no evidence of sabotage or espionage on the part of Japanese-Americans.)

As much as I hate to admit it, Higbie is right. If NSEERS is brought back by the Trump administration, there is legal precedent that could allow it to pass muster with the US Supreme Court if it is ever challenged. We can only hope that the shitheads in the Senate have done their job by then and seated a new Supreme Court justice, and that those nine justices can see that the original SCOTUS decision in 1944 was mistaken and refuse to perpetuate the racist fearmongering that led to the whole situation in the first place.

Fist

ever heard of andrew jackson?

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He won the 1828 election by a wide margin in both aspects; he took the popular vote by 140,000 votes

(I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was 12% of the 1.15 million votes cast – the population of the USA was much smaller then.)

and got 178 of the 261 available electoral votes (68% of them).

Seeing as how Jackson beat the sitting one-term president, John Quincy Adams, we could call that a solid mandate from the masses. Not quite a landslide, but a decisive victory nonetheless.

(It should be noted here that in the 1824 election, Jackson won the electoral vote. JQAdams won the popular vote, but failed (obviously) to secure a majority of electoral votes. This set in motion a sequence of events that ended with the House of Representatives using the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to appoint JQAdams as the sixth president, the only time in US history that the HoR has acted to seat a president.)

(Another note, because it’s important: The dominant political party back then was the Democratic-Republican Party. They won six straight elections, but splintered into four factions for the 1824 election, each with its own candidate, which is why the electoral college was such a mess.)

Jackson went on to win the 1832 election as well, beating the well known politician Henry Clay by a wider margin than he had against JQAdams, well over 200,000 popular votes and 219-49 in the electoral college.

After the dissolution of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jackson was key in the birth of the Democratic Party (yes, THAT Democratic Party, though their ideology was more akin to what 21st century Republicans espouse); in reality, he was more what we would (in modern times) call a Populist. Clay, whom Jackson pretty much hated, led the largest opposing faction, the National Republican Party (which is NOT that Republican Party).

Andrew Jackson was born in the Carolina colony to recent immigrants. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War (he served as a courier at just 13 years old) and, as a result of his commission as an officer in the Tennessee Militia, the War of 1812. He led a combined American and Indian force to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, which technically took place after the belligerents agreed to end hostilities.

After the War of 1812, Jackson got more involved in politics and became one of Tennessee’s senators by virtue of his reputation and ambition. His reputation not only included honorable service in the young nation’s two wars, but a victorious duel to defend his wife’s honor, his role in the First Seminole War and his involvement in moving Florida from Spanish to US control.

Due to his experiences in the Carolinas and Tennessee, Jackson talked a lot about how poorly Americans were treated by their federal government. Because of the shitshow that was the 1824 election, he banged the drum of corruption accusations ceaselessly, calling JQAdams’ ascent to the White House a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and the House.

He promised to go after corruption in Washington, to – if you’ll allow me a little leeway here – “drain the swamp.” He promised.

After winning the 1828 election, Jackson set about filling his Cabinet posts. He dutifully appointed political friends and rivals to fulfill promises exchanged for political favors during the election cycle. The thing was, Jackson didn’t particularly care for most of these folks. Instead of leaning on them for advice on how to run his government, he did something else.

He invited his buddies to the White House for bull sessions. This informal group of advisors was known as Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and they often conducted business in the national interest right there in the kitchen over food, drink and cigars. When you think of backroom politicking, think of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet.

Lest you think Jackson was reckless, though, he had a plan. For two years the Kitchen Cabinet ruled the Oval Office, annoying the shit out of the actual Cabinet secretaries as well as Congress and – to a smaller extent – the American people. When Jackson got his opening, he tore things wide open. That opening came in the form of Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War.

It seems the genteel and/or proper ladies married to other Cabinet secretaries and the Vice President (John C. Calhoun, whom Jackson had a massive falling-out with) didn’t approve of young Peggy or her marriage to Eaton. Peggy was apparently flirty and liked the attention of the male patrons of her father’s bar, and she enjoyed regaling them with her fluency in French and ability to play the piano. She tried to elope with a dashing Army officer, but her father shut that down. Soon after, at just 17 years old, she married a Navy officer called John Timberlake (any relation to Justin?), who was 39 and a drunk. The Timberlakes were friends with John Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and senator from Tennessee. Eaton manipulated the system to help get Timberlake out of debt by getting him posted to a high-paying position with the US Mediterranean Fleet. Rumors of a torrid affair between Eaton and Peggy bubbled under the surface, and some say those rumors were what led Timberlake to kill himself while on station in the Med. The official story is that Timberlake died of pneumonia, but Timberlake was dead no matter what and Peggy was free to marry Eaton.

Sounds scandalous, doesn’t it? Juicy, too! Whoo!

Young Peggy Eaton was by all accounts a forthright, even uppity woman, and her situation and demeanor did not sit well with the other important wives of DC. VP John Calhoun’s wife, Floride, led the ostracizing of Peggy by refusing to invite the Eatons to various parties and other functions as well as refusing invitations from the Eatons. Jackson, remembering the rumors and innuendo surrounding his beloved wife Rachel’s first marriage, took umbrage at this behavior and set about destroying the people treating his friend’s wife so poorly.

After Eaton became Secretary of War, things just got worse in this social situation known as the Petticoat Affair (or Eaton Affair). Martin Van Buren – then the Secretary of State – was so disappointed and humiliated by the whole thing that he offered to resign his position despite the fact that he was unmarried and had no wife to participate in the shunning of Peggy Eaton.

Jackson accepted Van Buren’s resignation, and immediately appointed him as the US ambassador to England. Calhoun, bitter about the unfolding events, conspired with the relevant Senate committees to deny Van Buren the ambassadorship. Remember that Calhoun was the Vice President of the United States at that time.

At that point, Jackson lost his mind (figuratively speaking) and demanded (and received) the resignations of every single one of his Cabinet members except for the Postmaster General, a guy called William Barry. The new Cabinet members owed their loyalties only to Jackson – and most certainly not to Congress – and functioned as a band of bootlicking yes men as “King Jackson” began to expand his reach and power over the nation.

King_Andrew_the_First_(political_cartoon_of_President_Andrew_Jackson).jpg

(Cartoon is in the public domain.)

As for Van Buren, he waited a couple of years and was Jackson’s running mate in the 1832 election (remember, Jackson won). Van Buren went on to win the 1836 election handily, perpetuating many of Jackson’s anti-establishment policies.

From a policy and practice standpoint, and maybe I’ll have to save this for another post some other time, Jackson was a mess. His hatred of the Second Bank of the United States drove him to destroy that financial institution, which compounded a recession that dated back to the Panic of 1825. Economically speaking, things were OK for the USA for a few years starting in 1830, and Jackson got a lot of credit for that, much of which he actually earned. However, his “Bank War” not only erased all the gains he made, but sent the US spiraling into its worst recession up to that point. That recession lasted from 1836 to 1843 and saw its peak with the Panic of 1837, which took place during the Van Buren administration but was a direct result of Jackson’s policies.

I realize this has gotten a bit long and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all about Andrew Jackson, a guy that’s been dead since 1845. It’s because I’m not just telling you about Andrew Jackson, I’m warning you about Donald Trump.

Yeah, that’s right. Trump.

Like Jackson, Trump believes he is the alpha and omega of the decision-making process that will save the United States. They both surrounded themselves with fawning admirers that formed an echo chamber instead of providing meaningful guidance or any semblance of thoughtful opposition.

Jackson’s initial Cabinet secretaries weren’t bad at their jobs, but they didn’t always do what Jackson wanted them to, so he marginalized and ignored them. When he got the chance, he got rid of them all and brought on people that were willing to do his bidding almost without question. (Roger Taney, who served in multiple positions under Jackson, stood up to him a couple of times, but always managed to do what Jackson wanted done, and more or less in the fashion in which Jackson wanted it done.)

Jackson drained the swamp, as he promised, but once it was drained he filled it back up with an even more odious liquid than he drained out.

The people Trump is bringing on to run his transition team and the people who are being bandied about as possible Cabinet secretaries in a Trump administration are just the first wave. Trump is testing the water – not only for these people, but for Congress and the American people as well.

If these transition leaders and possible appointees end up willing to do only what they’re instructed to do by their lord and master, they’ll no doubt keep their positions in the Trump administration. If they resist, choosing to serve the United States instead of Lord Trump, I have no doubts they’ll hear the words their master made famous – “You’re fired!”

If Congress accepts these transition leaders and possible appointees without comment or resistance, Trump won’t have to bother creating a Kitchen Cabinet. He’ll have one with his actual Cabinet.

If We The People accept these transition leaders and appointees, we’re only setting ourselves up for a bleak future in which Trump continues to force upon the population a string of racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, jingoistic unelected leaders whose ultimate goal – like that of their master – is to use their ideological poisons to pit us against each other so fiercely, to keep us fighting each other so intently, that we become so focused on our own survival that we are blinded to the destruction of our once-great nation.

There’s an ancient parable about frogs. If you take a frog and toss it into a pot of boiling water, it will do whatever it can to get out of the water and stay alive. However, if you put a frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, by the time the frog realizes the water is too hot for survival, it’s too late to escape and it dies in agony.

We’re the frog, and the 2016 election put us in the lukewarm water. Trump is starting to turn up the heat, and unless we stand up to him, by the time Trump shows his hand it will be too late to save ourselves or our nation.

 

Right now I give us a 50/50 chance at surviving Trump’s ultimate reality show.

kobach and his muslim registry

Have you heard of a guy called Kris Kobach? He’s currently the Secretary of State for Kansas, and he’s most well known for a string of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant laws he’s written, supported and/or tried to get passed (sometimes successfully).

He’s one of the super racist guys that President Elect Donald Trump has named to his transition team – you know, the folks preparing the government for the ascension of The Donald.

Kobach wants very much to bring back the registry of Muslims he helped establish during the GWBush administration. Back then, it got some attention – but not as much as you might think, what with 9-11 and all. It’s called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS.

It requires men over the age of 16 from 25 countries – and no surprise here, most of the countries are majority Muslim nations – to register, be interviewed and check in with officials during their time in the USA, whether they were visiting or living here. Because the program was so highly criticized, it was allowed to lapse into disuse in 2011.

I guess this qualifies as the “extreme vetting” Trump wanted done on anybody that comes in from these countries. Paying attention to the people who visit the USA or want to move here for an extended period of time is, I think, important, but having a whole program or even a governmental institution dedicated to that … wait a second – wouldn’t those things fall under Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Ah, so we already have an institution dedicated to that.

OK then, well, adding NSEERS back into the mix and putting it under ICE would still cost a shitload of money, right?  All sorts of people to do the interviews, meet with the Musli- er, I mean registrants – on a regular basis, not to mention the researchers needed to delve into people’s backgrounds. That’s going to be REALLY expensive – anybody who runs a business knows it’s the people costs that get you.  I’m not really comfortable with the government spending that kind of money, especially when everybody running for president keeps promising to cut my taxes. Surely hiring a bunch of people and putting them to work for the government is going to INCREASE my taxes, not cut them.

Now I am not one to identify a problem without offering some kind of solution. In all seriousness, those kind of people really piss me off. I mean, seriously, you’re part of the problem if you don’t offer a way to fix the problem you’re bringing to light. Stop that, and be part of the solution!

Here’s my solution, then, and it’s way cheaper and easier to implement than a bunch of people restarting an old, discredited (and unconstitutional) program. PLUS MY SOLUTION CREATES JOBS! RIGHT HERE IN THE USA! That’s right!

1. Require every Muslim entering the country for any reason to wear at all times on the outside of all of their clothing a simple armband that identifies them as practitioners of Islam.  (Here’s an example I whipped up.)

muslim_armband

2. Make the penalty for not wearing the armband something severe – expulsion at the least, but to be truly effective, the punishment should be execution by firing squad. That will be sure to get their attention.

3. Require that all armbands used for this program be Made in the USA!

See how clean, quick and easy that is? No big bureaucracy required, and everybody will know which visitors or immigrants need to be watched carefully. Maybe we could add a 1-800 number so people that see something can say something.

If anybody know’s Kobach’s phone number or email address, send me that info so I can get in touch with him. I’m 100% certain he’ll be excited by my idea to save the government a ton of money.

I’m pretty sure a program like this existed somewhere else a while back, but I’m not sure how well it worked out. If anybody can point me to a resource that gives some information on how it turned out for the folks that implemented the identification program I’m thinking about, let me know.

on history

If you only know me casually or are one of my Facebook friends, there’s a solid chance that other than myself, Ken Burns is the only historian you’ve ever heard of. He’s way more famous than I am 🙂
 
Read the commencement speech he delivered to the graduating class of 2016 at Stanford University. (opens in new tab) Take away what you take away, but I promise if you read it, you *will* take something away and be a more thoughtful person for it.
 
We’ve all heard that old cliché about those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. While humanity certainly exists in a cyclical fashion, I don’t believe we are doomed to repeat events about which we do not learn.
 
What we are, however, is doomed to never learning the lessons of those who went before us. If we remain ignorant of history, we lose the opportunity to learn what didn’t work before. No matter what transpires next, be it similar to previous events or a completely new event, we have prevented ourselves from advancement, from improvement.
 
French social contract theoretician Jean-Jacques Rousseau warned us that society is the corruptor of man; he said this because he believed that mankind is naturally good – even virtuous.  (I disagree with him, but that’s a topic for another time.)  The problem, Rousseau said, is that a bad upbringing and a poor (or nonexistent) education make people more susceptible to corruption, and when they get into positions of authority, the institutions which they staff then become corrupt, creating a cycle of nightmares that destroys society.

It stands to reason, then, that good people create good institutions, good institutions create good societies, and good societies create good governments – which in turn help create good people.  It’s a utopian cycle, to be sure, and one at which we have singularly failed to achieve.

Listen (or read) to Ken Burns, though, and breathe deep his words of wisdom.  We can learn from history, and in doing so, we can absorb the lessons of our ancestors. We may make some of the same mistakes they made, but they will be mistakes of choice, not ignorance, and we can always improve on our choices.

*Commencement speech transcript: http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/

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