THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – FEBRUARY

February may be the shortest month, but there has been no shortage of significant historical events during the month. For example:

2/2/1848 – The US-Mexican War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The US paid $15 million for a huge swath of land that encompasses parts of present-day CA, AZ, TX, UT, NV, NM, CO and WY.

2/3/1870 – The 15th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote.

2/3/1913 – The 16th amendment to the Constitution was ratified authorizing Congress to collect income taxes.

2/6/1933 – The 20th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which changed the presidential inauguration date from March 4 to January 20.

2/6/1952 – Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne of the UK with the death of her father, King George VI.

2/8/1010 – The Boy Scouts of America was founded by William Boyce.

2/9/1943 – In one of the bloodiest battles of WWII the US captured Guadalcanal after six months of intense fighting. The KIA included 2,000 Americans and 9,000 Japanese.

2/10/1967 – The 25th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which clarified the procedures for presidential succession.

2/11/660 BC – The date of the founding of the Japanese nation.

2/11//1990 – Nelson Mandela was released from a SA prison after 27 years.

2/12/1999 – The impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton concluded with a “not guilty” verdict.

2/13/1635 – Boston Latin, the first taxpayer-supported public school in America, was founded in Boston.

2/14 – Celebrated around the world as St. Valentine’s Day.

2/14/1849 – Photographer Mathew Brady took the first photograph of a US President in office (James K. Polk).

2/14/1929 – The infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in Chicago, as members of Al Capone’s gang, posing as police, gunned down members of the Bugs Moran gang.

2/15/1898 – The USS Battleship Maine blew up under mysterious circumstances while anchored in Havana harbor. Although culpability was not proven, this incident precipitated the War of 1898 with “remember the Maine” as the chief battle cry.

2/15/1933 – A failed assassination attempt on FDR resulted in the death of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak.

2/19/1942 – The US commenced the internment of Japanese Americans.

2/20/1962 – Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit.

2/21/1965 – Former Black Muslim leader, Malcolm X, was shot and killed in NYC.

2/21/1972 – President Richard Nixon arrived in China for the first State visit with communist China.

2/23/1991 – US ground troops initiated Operation Desert Storm versus Iraq.

2/24/1582 – Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar. The latter has become the standard worldwide.

2/24/1867 – The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. The Senate acquitted him by one vote.

2/27/1950 – The 22nd amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which limits the president to a maximum of two terms or ten years in office.

2/27/1991- Operation Desert Storm concluded.

Birthdays – Hattie Caraway, Bakersville, TN – 2/1/1878, first woman elected to US Senate; John Ford – 2/1/1895, Cape Elizabeth, ME, Oscar winning director; Elizabeth Blackwell – 2/3/1821, Bristol, England – first female physician in US; Norman Rockwell – 2/3/1894, NYC – artist and illustrator; Thaddeus Kosciusko – 2/4/1746, Poland, Revolutionary War hero; Charles Lindbergh – 2/4/1902, Detroit, MI, first non-stop solo cross-Atlantic flight; Aaron Burr – 2/6/1756 – killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel; George Herman (“Babe”) Ruth – 2/6/1895, Baltimore, MD, generally considered best baseball player ever; Ronald Reagan – 2/6/1911, Tampico, IL, entertainer, 40th President; Charles Dickens – 2/7/1812, in England, British novelist; Sinclair Lewis – 2/7/1885, Sauk Center, MN, novelist and social critic; William Henry Harrison – 2/9/1773, Berkeley, VA, 9th President (died after having served only 32 days); Thomas Edison – 2/11/1847, Milan, OH, inventor; Abraham Lincoln- 2/12/1809, Hardin County, KY, 16th President, preserved the Union, freed the slaves; Charles Darwin – 2/12/1809, England, author; Galileo Galilei – 2/15/1564, astronomer and physicist; Susan B. Anthony – 2/15/1820, Adams, MA, women’s suffrage pioneer; Sonny Bono – 2/16/1935, Detroit, MI, entertainer; Nicolaus Copernicus – 2/19/1473, Poland, first to declare the sun, not earth, was the center of the solar system; George Washington – 2/22/1732, Westmoreland County, VA – “father” of US, 1st President; W.E.B. DuBois – 2/23/1868, Great Barrington, MA, AA educator; William (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody – 2/26/1846, Scott County, IN, reputedly killed 4,000 buffalo; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – 2/27/1807, Portland, ME, poet (“Paul Revere’s Ride”).

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BLACK HISTORY MONTH

It is impossible to discuss Black history without discussing the slave trade. Since February has been designated as Black History Month, I thought it appropriate to publish a blog on the topic discussing not only the sordid history of slavery, but also the many significant accomplishments of AAs.

Slave trading is as old as recorded history. Ancient peoples, such as the Egyptians, Arabs and Romans, among others, were active practitioners. Before the industrial revolution took hold, slaves were essential to do the back-breaking physical labor required, such as, for example, building the pyramids, tilling the fields, and rowing the huge warships. Basically, if you lost a war you were either killed or enslaved. Slaves were not viewed as people. They were perceived as property to be bought, sold, raped, beaten, or otherwise mistreated.

Most present-day African-Americans (AAs) are the descendants of slaves that were transported from the west coast areas of Africa to the Americas from the late 16th century through 1865. Most of these slaves were captured in raids conducted by white slave traders, however, it was not uncommon for African chiefs, (for example, those located in Benin and Mali), to sell black prisoners of war to these “slavers.”

The slaves’ passage from Africa to America, which normally took six months, was beyond brutal. Without going into too much graphic detail, the trip, itself, was probably worse than what awaited them at the end. First of all, the slaves were separated by gender. Men were generally put in the ship’s hold where they were so crowded that often they had no space to lie down. Starvation and disease were rampant. Many slaves died enroute and were dumped unceremoniously overboard. Women were kept closer to the crew. Rape was common. Occasionally there would be a rebellion, but these were quickly and brutally suppressed. All in all, some 12 million AAs were transported to America in this manner, but countless never made it.

The first slaves arrived in present-day US in 1619 at the ironically-named Point Comfort near present-day Hampton, VA. This was some 30 miles from Jamestown, which, as some of you will recall, was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The English settlers treated these early arrivals as indentured servants, rather than slaves, and released them after they had completed their period of indenture. However, before long, this practice was replaced by outright slavery. It is estimated that only about 5% of the slaves were transported to the American colonies. The vast majority went to the West Indies, or even South America, where the working conditions were significantly more brutal (harder work and inferior food and medical care) and the death rates substantially higher.

[Quiz question: What was the first American colony to legalize slavery? Answer below.]

In early America, owning slaves was common. In fact, many, if not most, of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. For example, Thomas Jefferson owned some 200. Before you condemn them for that, however, consider that slave ownership was a symptom of the times in which they lived, and I do not believe it is appropriate to judge them by today’s standards as many are wont to do. It has been documented that even some free blacks owned slaves.

By the early 19th century slavery had become more commonplace in the South than the North. Without going into excessive detail, slaves were an economic necessity to work the vast plantations that produced cotton and other crops on which the South’s economy depended. Meanwhile, the North had become more industrialized and less reliant on slave labor. The two regions were on a collision course that ultimately resulted in the Civil War, followed by Reconstruction, “Jim Crow” laws, and segregation that lasted well into the 20th century.

AAs have distinguished themselves in every war. For example, the first person to give his life for freedom during the Revolutionary War was an AA, Crispus Attucks, who perished at the Boston Massacre. Some 5,000 AAs fought in the Continental Army, side by side with whites. Therefore, technically, the US Army was integrated before it was segregated. Even after the British and their loyalist supporters offered to free any slave who joined their side, many AAs stayed loyal to the Revolution.

During the Civil War approximately 200,000 free blacks and former slaves fought with the Union Army both before and after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

During WWI the armed forces were still segregated, and most AA units were relegated to support roles. Even so, a few units, such as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” did see combat. That unit ended up serving on the front lines for six months, longer than any other unit, and 171 of its members were awarded the Legion of Merit. Moreover, Corporal Freddie Stowers of another unit was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Sadly, somehow, the Army (intentionally or not) “misplaced” his paperwork at the time, but his surviving sisters received it on his behalf from President Bush 41 in 1991.

Nearly 2 million AAs served in the US military during WWII, once again, in segregated units. Many of them, such as the famed Tuskegee Airmen, did so with distinction. Over 700 AAs were killed, and many more were wounded. Undoubtedly, their bravery and patriotism was one of the factors that led President Harry Truman to order the integration of the armed services after the War. AAs have continued to serve with distinction in every war since.

CONCLUSION

Presently, most people would say the US is divided racially (as well as politically, economically, socially and geographically). That is problematic, but, I maintain we have made significant strides as a society. Critics should try to put things in perspective. We’re not perfect by any means, and we should strive to improve, but name me a country that is better.

AAs have made innumerable contributions to society in all fields of endeavor. Below please find a brief list. Most of these names should be very familiar to you. Due to space limitations I am sure I have omitted some very important people. Feel free to make additional suggestions to the list.

Civil Rights

1. Martin Luther King – In my opinion, the most influential American civil rights leader ever. His espousal of non-violent protest won over many whites as well as blacks. His assassination was a tragedy for the civil rights movement.

2. Rosa Parks – The simple act of refusing to give up her seat on a bus was a landmark event in black civil rights history.

3. Frederick Douglas – Escaped slave who became one of the leading abolitionists of the 19th century.

4. Harriet Tubman – Escaped slave who was an integral “conductor” of the “underground railroad” in the 19th century.

5. Jesse Jackson – Renowned and influential civil rights leader for over 40 years. Ran for President in 1984 and 1988.

6. Sojourner Truth – Influential 19th century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. Fought for equal rights for women as well as blacks.

7. Ida Wells – Civil rights activist, journalist and newspaper editor. Relentlessly investigated and exposed lynchings, which were all too commonplace in the South at the time.

Politics

1. Barack Obama – Served two terms as President of the US. Regardless of your opinion of his political philosophy, he was the first AA president.

2. Shirley Chisholm – First AA congresswoman (1968-1983). Ran for President in 1972.

3. Douglas Wilder – In 1989 became the first AA to be elected governor (Virginia).

4. Carol Moseley-Braun – First AA senator (Illinois).

Presently, there are thousands of AAs holding elected office and dozens who hold or have held significant government positions, such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, and NSA Head Condolezza Rice. Furthermore, the 2020 presidential campaign features AAs, such as Corey Booker and Kamilla Harris.

Sports and Entertainment –

There are a plethora of examples in this field, but, to my mind, these four stand out.

1. Jesse Owens – “Stuck it” to the Nazis by winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 demonstrating that AAs were not inferior as many thought at the time.

2. Jackie Robinson – Broke the “color barrier” in major league baseball in 1947, paving the way for thousands who have followed and will follow, prospectively.

3. Muhammed Ali – World champion boxer and an inspiration to blacks worldwide.

4. Oprah Winfrey – Strong media personality and role model to AAs and women, in general.

Answer to quiz question: Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. Kudos to you if you got it right.

UNCLE OSCAR

“He looks just like my Uncle Oscar!” So said Margaret Herrick, the Executive Secretary of the Academy in 1931 when she first laid eyes on the statuette. Fortuitously, columnist Sidney Skolsky was within earshot. He memorialized the comment by including it in his byline, and the moniker “stuck.” To be sure, that sourcing is not universally accepted. For example, according to one of Bette Davis’ biographies, she named the statue after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. However, the Herrick story sounds like the most plausible, so I am going with it. In any event, the Academy adopted the name officially in 1939.

The Academy Awards, aka the “Oscars,” is hosted annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winners of AAs are selected by the Academy’s membership. It is the oldest and most prestigious of the awards. This year’s awards, the 91st, will be presented on Sunday, February 24 at the Dolby Theatre in LA. The host will be …… no one.

It was supposed to Kevin Hart, but he ran afoul of the twitter PC Police, and he got the “boot.” Yes, his tweets were years old, and, yes, he apologized. But, that was not good enough for the PC Police, so he had to go. Welcome to modern, progressive America, where one is penalized for what he did or said years ago. Best to monitor your kids’ tweets and Facebook entries verrrry carefully. Anyway, too bad about Hart. He’s very funny, and he likely would have added some much needed spice to the show.

For me, the biggest drawback to the show is its length and pace. It’s supposed to be three hours, but good luck with that. The 2002 show was the worst, lasting 4 hours and 23 minutes, but who’s counting. DVR, anyone?

Some little-known facts about the AAs:

1. The initial AAs were presented in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel before an audience of approximately 270 persons. This year, by contrast, it is anticipated that the awards will be televised and streamed live to some 30 million people around the globe. Moreover, as has been customary, they will be preceded by a elaborate ceremony, which will feature celebrities parading before their fans, the media, and a television audience on the “Red Carpet.” Some people actually prefer the “Red Carpet” to the show, itself.

2. In 1929 the award winners, 15 in all, were disclosed to the media three months ahead of time. For a few years, beginning in 1930, the winners were disclosed the night before. Since 1941, however, the identitities of the winners have been sealed in envelopes and guarded like the proverbial “crown jewels” until they are disclosed, with much fanfare, at the ceremony.

3. Since 1950 the ownership of the statuettes has not been unencumbered. Legally, neither the winners nor their heirs are free to sell them on the open market without first offering them back to the Academy for $1. Although they are gold plated and only cost about $500 each to manufacture, their value on the open market would be substantial. For example, a few years ago, a pre-1950 statuette sold via on-line auction for $861,542.

4. The voting membership of the academy is not very diverse. It is overwhelmingly Caucasian, male, and elderly. More on that later.

5. In order to be eligible for the Best Picture Award, a film must be a minimum of 40 minutes long and must have opened in LA County by December 31 of the previous year.

6. Other than Best Picture, only the members of each branch vote for the nominees in that category. For example, only directors nominate candidates for Best Director. The entire membership votes for the winners, as well as for Best Picture.

7. For many years, the awards were presented in late March or early April. Beginning in 2004, however, they were moved up to late February or early March. The major reason for this was to shorten the intense lobbying and advertising campaigns of the Oscar season, which had become excessive. In addition, the late February-early March period is devoid of competing extravaganzas, such as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in late March, which has grown very popular. ABC, which televises the event, receives an additional benefit in that February is a “sweeps” month.

8. From time to time, some critics have accused the Academy of bias, for example:

a. Favoritism toward romantic dramas, historical epics, family melodramas, and historical biographies (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Chariots of Fire,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” and “Annie Hall”) at the expense of action films or sports films. Often, these so-called “Oscar-bait” movies have won at the expense of more popular and enduring films such as “Star Wars,” “Goodfellas,” “Hoosiers” and “Raging Bull.” I have long felt that there has, at times, been a disconnect between preferences of the Academy voters and the general audience.

b. Sentiment has, sometimes, led to awards for popular entertainers or those who have been denied in the past. Also, some awards have been given more for a distinguished career than for the most recent individual performance. One example would be John Wayne winning for his performance in “True Grit” in 1969. Wayne had been one of the most popular performers for three decades, but he had never won an Oscar.

c. Every so often, charges of racial bias have plagued the Academy. For example, a few years ago, critics decried the absence of nominations such as “Straight Outta Compton” for Best Picture and Will Smith for Best Actor in “Concussion.” These critics have cited the composition of the voting membership, as noted above, as being the cause. I’m not so sure. Through the years there have occasionally been curious snubs, such as Eddie Murphy being passed over (in favor of Alan Arkin) for his superb performance in “Dreamgirls.” I did not see “Compton,” so I can’t comment on that. Smith’s performance was worthy of a nomination (although, which nominee would he have replaced?). However, I don’t believe those omissions are cause for protests and boycotts. I am definitely not in favor of a quota for nominations of minorities. As long as the nominations and Oscar voting are subjective, there will always be some that are overlooked. Our society is too PC as it is. Part of life is dealing with disappointments. Certainly, there is diversity this year, as evidenced by the nominations of “Black Panther” and “BlackkKlansman” for best picture, Spike Lee for best director, and Yalitza Aparicio, Regina King and Mahershala Ali for individual acting awards.

9. I recall a few puzzling choices for Best Picture in past years, cases in which the winning picture was soon forgotten and an also-ran or two became a classic or at least substantially more popular or memorable. For example:

a. 1977 – “Annie Hall” beat “Star Wars.” Unless you’re a big Woody Allen fan chances are you don’t remember “Annie Hall.” “Star Wars” was a mega-hit and spawned several sequels as well as ancillaries such as toys and games.

b. 1941 – “How Green Was My Valley” beat “Citizen Kane.” “Valley” has been long forgotten, and “Kane” is on many “short lists” of the best movies ever.

c. 1990 – “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas.” I saw “Dances.” It was a nice movie, but “Goodfellas” is a classic gangster film with an all-star cast (DeNiro, Pesce, Liotta) and is on tv frequently.

d. 1940 – “Rebecca” beat “The Grapes of Wrath,” a powerful drama about the Depression-era California migrant workers starring Henry Fonda, among others.

e. 1998- “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan.” “Shakespeare” was soon forgotten and is now no more than the answer to a trivia question, whereas “Ryan” was a classic WWII movie with an all-star cast headed by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon). Who can ever forget the classic D-Day landing scene?

f. 1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which few recall and is never on tv, beat “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is a Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and which is on tv annually.

I could go on. In fact, I could write an entire blog on just this sub-topic, but you get the idea.

A brief quiz, call it a “quizette:”

1. Who has won the most Academy Awards?
2. Only three movies have swept the much coveted awards for best picture, director, writer, best actor and best actress. Can you name them?
3. Who was the youngest actor/actress to win?
4. Who was the oldest?
5. Can you name the Best Picture winners for the last two years?

See answers below.

CONCLUSION

I know you are all anxiously awaiting my predictions, so here they are:

Best Picture – “Green Book”
Best Actor – Christian Bale – “Vice”
Best Actress – Lady Gaga – “A Star Is Born”
Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali – “Green Book”
Supporting Actress – Emma Stone – “The Favourite”

Enjoy the awards show as well as the “Red Carpet,” although I strongly recommend using a DVR to get through the many “dead spots.”

Quizette answers:

1. Walt Disney – 26 (64 nominations).
2. “It Happened One Night” (1935); “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1976); “Silence of the Lambs” (1992).
3. Tatum O’Neal (10) in “Paper Moon”
4. Jessica Tandy (81) in “Driving Miss Daisy”
5. 2017 – “Moonlight;” 2018 – The Shape of Water.”

V-J DAY TIMES SQUARE KISSER DIES AT 95

Three random people, plus one random kiss. On August 14, 1945 those things combined to make, arguably, one of the most memorable photographic moments of the 20th century. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but not to many of those who had just lived through the horrors of WWII.

August 14, 1945 was a day of unrestrained, spontaneous joy and unfettered celebration. Why? It was the day Japan surrendered, marking the end of WWII. It quickly became known simply as “V-J Day.” As word spread, people began to celebrate. In NYC people gathered in public places, such as Times Square, to share in the momentus occasion.

Alfred Eisenstaedt, a photographer for “Life Magazine,” was patrolling TS. He was hoping to take photographs that would capture the essence of the moment. As he related in his book, “Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt,” “I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight…. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder, but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then, suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds.”

Native New Yorkers might be able to discern the exact location of “The Kiss” based on the background. It was at the confluence of Seventh Avenue and Broadway, just south of 45th Street, looking north.

Eisenstaedt said the contrast in color between the man’s dark uniform and the girl’s white dress “made” the picture. If they had both been in dark or both in white he would not have bothered to snap it. Indeed, there were many other pictures taken that day all over the world, but this one captured the mood and the moment perfectly and, thus, became the enduring symbol of the event. E called it “V-J Day in Times Square.” The caption read “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.”

Unfortunately, E was unable to obtain any personal information regarding the couple, and neither person’s face is clearly seen. Thus, for many years it was unclear who they were. Various persons have made claims over the years. Some had been the subject of similar pictures, but not “the one.” Others were out and out impostors.

Finally, many years later, their identities were established definitively. The sailor was identified as George Mendonsa. The “nurse,” who actually was a dental assistant, was identified as Greta Zimmer.

Mendonsa was identified conclusively through analysis by personnel from the Naval War College based on identifying scars and tattoos visible in the picture. Apparently, he was on leave from his ship, the “USS Sullivan.” He said, he and his future wife were watching a movie at Radio City when people came bursting into the theatre announcing the end of the war. Immediately, they went outside to join in the celebration. After he had had a few drinks he noticed a woman in a white dress. Assuming she was a military nurse he grabbed her and kissed her.

Greta Zimmer makes for an interesting story independent of the photo. She was born Grete Zimmer in Wiener Neustadt, Austria on June 5, 1924, the second oldest of four sisters. The family was Jewish. In 1939 Grete and two of the sisters managed to emigrate to the US (The eldest emigrated to Palestine.), but the parents remained behind. Unfortunately, they both perished in a concentration camp. Zimmer studied fashion and costuming at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the New School of Social Research’s Dramatic Workshop. She was supporting herself by working as a dental assistant. She would wear white, which was why she was mistaken for a military nurse.

Her version of the event: “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed. That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me. I did not see him approaching, and before I kn[e]w it I was in this tight grip.” Not to be a “killjoy,” but under today’s mores Mendonsa would likely be accused of sexual assault.

Eventually, Zimmer married, adding the surname, Friedman, raised a family and worked as a book restorer.

Eisenstaedt was born in Germany in 1898. After emigrating to the US he established himself as a renowned photographer. During his career at “Life,” he became known for his ability to “capture memorable images.” He published some 2,500 photos, 90 of which were “covers.” Other than “The Kiss,” he is, perhaps, best known for his portraits of the actress, Sophia Loren. The Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography bears his name.

CONCLUSION

As they say, timing is everything. Eisenstaedt just happened to be in the area taking pictures. He just happened to notice Mendonsa. Mendonsa just happened to grab Zimmer and kiss her at that precise moment. They just happened to be wearing contrasting colors and just happened to be of compatible sizes.

All three principals lived long lives. Eisenstaedt died in 1995 at the age of 96. Friedman died in 2016 at the age of 92. Mendonsa died this week at the age of 95.

Finally, for you amateur historians, another historically-significant event occurred on August 14, 1945. Ho Chi Minh commenced an uprising in Vietnam against the French. We all know the end result. The French abandoned Indo-China; and the US entered the arena, eventually becoming embroiled in a long and fruitless war.

PRESIDENTS’ DAY

Today, February 18, we celebrate Presidents’ Day, or do we? According to Wikipedia, the moniker, “Presidents’ Day,” is actually a colloquialism. The official name of the federal holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.” It is celebrated on the third Monday of February, which, depending on the particular year, can be anywhere between the 15th and the 21st. However, as many of you know, W was actually born on February 22, so the holiday never falls on his actual birthday. Except, the year W was born, 1731, the British Empire, including the American Colonies, was still using the Old Style Julian calendar, which was eleven days behind the modern Gregorian calendar, which became the standard in 1752. So, technically, W was born on February 11, 1732 (Old Style). Confused? Read on; it gets worse.

Congress first promulgated the federal holiday honoring W in 1879. Fittingly, W was the first and only President to be so honored. It was celebrated on February 22. In 1951 a gentleman named Harold Fischer formed a committee with the apt name of the “President’s Day National Committee,” of which he became the National Executive Director, for the purpose of honoring, not a particular president, but the office, itself. There was sentiment for designating March 4 as the date since that was the original presidential inauguration date, and, in point of fact, several states’ did designate that date as President’s Day.

Finally, in 1971 Congress clarified matters with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It wanted to promulgate a holiday that would honor both W and Abraham Lincoln, whom most historians recognize (as do I) as our two best presidents. The holiday was moved to the third Monday in February, which, as I have said, falls in between L (February 12) and W’s (February 22) birthdays. It has remained there ever since. People liked it because it provided a built-in three-day weekend, and retailers liked it because customers could spend the extra day off shopping in their stores.

Still confused? Almost done, but there’s more. For example:

1. Today, the holiday is widely viewed as a plural (Presidents’ Day) to honor all presidents, not only W.

2. The day is not a universal holiday. It is celebrated as a state holiday in only 38 of the 50 states, plus DC and Puerto Rico.

3. Moreover, these states use 14 different variations of the name of the holiday, such as “President’s Day,” “Presidents’ Day,” “George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday,” “Lincoln/Washington/Presidents Day,” “George Washington’s Birthday,” and “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” (who?), among others.

4. Fourteen states do not celebrate the holiday at all.

5. Other variations:
a. Massachusetts celebrates “Presidents Day” on May 29 in honor of four specific presidents. Can you name them? Three are easy. They were born in the state and were well-accomplished, aside from being president. The fourth, who was more obscure, was born in a neighboring state, but served as MA governor before becoming president. Kudos if you can name all four. See answer below.
b. New Mexico celebrates the holiday on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
c. Georgia celebrates the day on Christmas Eve.
d. Indiana also celebrates it on Christmas Eve, or the previous workday.
e. W’s adopted city of Alexandria, VA holds celebrations throughout the entire month of February, including what is billed as the nation’s “longest-running and largest George Washington Birthday parade.”
f. The city of Eustis, FL boasts a “GeorgeFest” celebration, which dates back to 1902.
g. One popular food that is traditionally consumed on this day is…?
h. Which medal did W create for the “common soldier?”

CONCLUSION

For many of you, today marks the end of winter vacation from school and work. If you have yet to travel home be careful and be safe. If you have already returned, I hope you enjoyed your time off.

I told you this would be confusing, but, now, you are doubtlessly an expert regarding the holiday.

Quiz answers: 1) John Adams, John Quincy Adams, JFK, and Calvin Coolidge
2) Cherry pie, for obvious reasons.
3) The Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

PS. Daisy Gatson Bates was a civil rights activist who played a leading role in the integration of Arkansas’ public schools in the late 1950s.

PRESIDENT TRUMP SIGNS BORDER DEAL, DECLARES NATIONAL EMERGENCY

With respect to the Border Deal, most of you are aware of the headline, as stated above, but, when it comes to evaluating the deal, remember, “the devil is in the details.” Almost everyone is happy that Congress was able to put together a deal to avert another government shutdown. It would have been very bad on many levels. Wall Street, the most objective arbiter I know, loves it. As I write this at mid-day the DJI is up over 200 points.

But, while you’re busy celebrating remember Congress put the Border Bill, some 1,000+ pages of it, together in a rush, under extreme pressure, and few, if any, have even read it. We have no idea of the fine points, but you can be sure they will surface eventually. For example, it has been reported that there is a provision that sponsors or potential sponsors cannot be deported. Okay. Doesn’t sound too bad, but what is the definition of a “sponsor.” I heard that anyone can declare himself a “potential sponsor.” Theoretically, a gang member, or any other adult migrant for that matter, could convince or intimidate a minor migrant into agreeing to designate him as their “sponsor,” and then he cannot be deported. If that’s true, the GOP got snookered, badly.

As an illustration of a hidden, significant, “detail,” I recall the story I heard about the origin of the 401k. Were it not for this provision, salaried persons, especially those without pensions, would not have been able to accumulate the funds for a comfortable retirement. My understanding is that it was an obscure, last minute, “pork” add-on to a tax bill. Some CPA found it, used it for his clients, and it spread to common usage. Point being, we do not know what’s in the Border Bill, but eventually we will find out, good, bad or indifferent.

The primary point of this blog, however, is the National Emergency. Already, it has provoked an outcry in some quarters, and it is sure to be challenged in court. (1) What, exactly, is a “NE?” (2) Does the president have the constitutional authority to declare one? (3) How many and under what circumstances have they been declared? (4) Do we have any outstanding presently? Good questions, keep reading.

1. According to Wikipedia a NE is “a state of emergency resulting from a danger or threat of danger to a nation.” We can debate whether or not the situation at the southern border, or any particular situation, meets that standard, but Mr. Trump thinks it does, and his is the opinion that counts.

2. Congress passed the NE Act in 1975. It authorizes the president to declare a NE, which triggers a slew of events. In order to undo a NE Congress must pass a joint resolution. Such JR would require either a two-thirds vote or the president’s approval. Neither scenario is likely in this situation. Court challenges are likely. A lower, “friendly” court may rule against Mr. Trump, but, ultimately, he will prevail. In my research, I was unable to find one case where the Supreme Court reversed such an order.

3. According to Wikipedia some 60 NEs have been declared and 32 are active, including today’s. According to Kim Scheppele, a professor at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, they’re “absolutely common.” Historically, presidents have declared them “for all kinds of things,” even before the passage of the aforementioned NEA. The first recorded one was by none other than George Washington who employed it to take over state militias to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1792. During the Civil War President Lincoln declared a NE as authority to blockade certain ports of the Confederacy. More recently, George Bush declared a NE after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Barack Obama declared one to combat the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009. Very often, Presidents have declared NEs of broad scope and vague duration with little of no Congressional oversight. I am not defending that custom, just pointing out that Congressional griping over this one will likely fall on deaf ears, legally.

4. As I said, Mr. Trump did not invent this tactic. Today’s NE makes 32 outstanding.

CONCLUSION

The NY Times has published an article the gist of which will no doubt be echoed on much of the rest of the news media. It makes for interesting reading, if only to get a liberal opinion. It lists six “takeaways” from Mr. Trump’s action. Of course, they are negative.

1. He will go to “almost any length to appease his base.”
2. Dems cannot stop him, but they can “make it awkward.”
3. Diverting funds from elsewhere could “make new enemies.”
4. Expect court challenges.
5. “Watch how Nancy Pelosi responds.”
6. He provided his challengers with “an argument.”

As I said, Mr. Trump will be criticized by his enemies, but so what? He is used to that, as are all politicians. On the other hand, he will be fulfilling a campaign promise. The people elected him to secure the border, and that is what he is doing. Some of you may not agree with his actions or opinions, regarding border security, which is your right, but he is well within his constitutional authority to take the action he has today.

DEMS’ VERSION OF THE LIMBO

Some of you may be familiar with the dance called the “limbo,” which was popular back in the 1960s. The whole point of the dance was to see “how low you could go” under the limbo bar. Well, the Dems are engaged in a political version of the limbo called “How Far Left Can You Go.” The self-defeating point of this dance seems to be to espouse as many outrageous far left policies as possible to curry favor with the base, even if, in the process, you offend mainstream voters. The primary players of this inane game are not merely fringe members of the party. That would be somewhat understandable. Some, like freshman Congresswoman Ihan Omar (MN) are, but most of them are declared candidates for the 2020 Dem presidential nomination.

Due to space limitations, I will limit this to a few recent examples.

1. Ihan Oman – She has barely gotten her feet wet in Congress, and already she has made one ill advised statement after another. She has embarrassed herself and, more importantly, her Party with her obvious anti-Semitic bias. Her latest was a tweet in which she criticized the pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC, by tweeting “it’s all about the Benjamins.” Her meaning was clear – Jewish money has cast undue influence on US relations with Israel. Really. How about all the Arab lobbyists? I suppose they don’t try to peddle influence as well. That’s what lobbyists do. Duh.
2. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The media has turned her into a spokeswoman for the Party. This is curious since she only won election in her far left political district because she defeated an overconfident incumbent in a poorly attended primary. (The only reason she isn’t running for president is she is too young, thank God.) AOC proposed a “Green New Deal.” There are many preposterous aspects to this policy, but my favorite ones are eliminating anything that burns combustible fuels, such as cars and airplanes, and rebuilding every building in the country. This would not only destroy the country’s energy, military and farming sectors, among many others, but also bankrupt the country. Did she really think this through? She makes the much-denigrated Sarah Palin look like an Einstein! The NGD was immediately endorsed by much of the progressive wing, including Mazie Horono, the Senator from Hawaii best known for advocating the elimination of the due process provision of the Constitution during the Kavanaugh hearings. That is, until someone asked her how anyone would be able even to travel to Hawaii under the plan. Uh oh. And did I mention the cost? No one knows, including AOC, but it would surely run in the tens of trillions per year and destroy our economy. This is simply too insane to discuss seriously. It will be fun to see the eventual nominee try to defend it.

3. Elizabeth Warren. As most of you know, she is the MA senator best known for her false and ludicrous claim of being Native American and then doubling down by insisting she gained no advantage from that lie. She has issued a veritable plethora of far-out, dumb ideas. Her best (or worst) was take your pick between (a) eliminating private healthcare insurance options and (b) instituting a 2% wealth tax. The former would disenfranchise some 180 million Americans who have such plans presently and like them just fine, thank you very much. The latter, as I blogged recently, has been tried (and abandoned) in many countries. It has not worked anywhere. All it has accomplished was to cause the wealthy to hide/devalue their assets and/or flee to other countries.

4. Kamala Harris has made many outrageous statements, but her latest was to endorse the legalization of marijuana. In an interview on “The Breakfast Club,” she admitted she has tried it and liked it, adding it “gives a lot of people joy.” It also serves to impair them and many view it as a “gateway” drug to other hard drugs, but she either is oblivious to that or chose to gloss over it. Maybe she was lulled by a recent Fox poll that disclosed 66% of Americans favor legalization of pot. Perhaps, but I don’t think her opinion will be popular outside of coastal America

5. What is going on with the Dem pols in Virginia?! First, it was discovered that Governor Ralph Northam posed in “blackface” in his medical school yearbook. Then, at the resultant press conference he had to be restrained by his wife from performing a “Moonwalk” a la Michael Jackson. Later, he tried to deny it was he in the picture, but, come on, who would put another person in “blackface” on his yearbook page. There has been bipartisan demand for his removal from office. Ironically, probably, his best shot at surviving is that his would-be replacement, Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax, has been accused of sexual harassment by two women, and the next person in the line of succession, Attorney General Mark Herring has also been embroiled in a “blackface” controversy. Dems, who mostly favored denying Kavanaugh due process, now have to choose between prejudging those three as well or being accused of hypocrisy. In addition, many AAs will not be happy if Fairfax, who is the only AA of the three turns out to be the one who goes. What a mess, and don’t forget Virginia figures to be a key state in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

6. The best (or worst) is Governor Northam’s endorsement of infanticide. Yes, not just abortion, but infanticide, aka murder of infants. He went beyond advocating late term abortions, which the latest Gallup poll disclosed 68% of even PRO CHOICE advocates oppose. He described how a delivered, viable baby could be “made comfortable” while the parents and their doctor decided whether or not to abort it. And, this from a licensed physician!

CONCLUSION

Yes, the 2020 election cycle is heating up, and 2019 has just begun. We have nearly a dozen declared Dem candidates, with various others undeclared. So far, the field is being dominated by the far left. Each candidate is trying to “out left” the others. I believe most of them are already to the left of most of the electorate. The debates should be very entertaining with, perhaps, 20 or so people vying for the spotlight.

Ironically, the latest poll by Morning Consultants shows two undeclared candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who is not even a Dem, in the lead with 29% and 22%, respectively. Biden, who I had always viewed as a moderate to liberal, seems like a staid conservative by comparison. As he contemplates his decision he must wonder if there is even a constituency for him in his own party.

At this rate, the nominee will emerge so bloodied and so far to the left that Mr. Trump will walk to the White House. He has labeled the Dems derisively as the party of open borders, drugs, crime, terrorism, sanctuary cities, and Socialism. Based upon their rhetoric, I would agree, and I think many other people would as well. To me, that is a recipe for defeat, perhaps an historic one.

STATE OF THE UNION

And, the state of the union is ……divided. In my opinion, there is one inescapable fact that applies whether you are a liberal, a moderate or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, a Trump supporter or a Trump hater, white, black or Hispanic, young or old, male or female, or rich or poor. Two years into the Trump presidency, this country is DIVIDED, as never before in my lifetime.

Who is to blame? Dems? GOP? Obama? Trump? The media? All of the above? The answer is simple; it depends on one’s political point of view. Watching the president’s SOTU speech Tuesday night and the various rebuttals and political commentators on CNN, MSNBC and Fox, how could one think otherwise?

The Constitution requires the President to inform Congress on the “state of the union” annually. The time of the year is not specified, but traditionally, Presidents have given the address in January or February. This year, the acrimony and the divisiveness over border security and the resulting government shut-down led to the SOTU being delayed. This was not the first time a SOTU was postponed. In 1986 president Reagan postponed the SOTU for one week due to the explosion of the Space Shuttle “Challenger.”

George Washington gave the initial one, in person, in 1790, but that is not a requirement. In fact, during the 19th century most of them were actually delivered to Congress in handwritten form. Apparently, they were not viewed as that significant.

With the advent of radio, however, Presidents began to see an opportunity to disseminate their policies directly to the people. Hence, they were broadcast on the radio and, later, telecast on TV. Down through the years, most of them have been rather mundane, however, a few of the notable announcements were:

1. President Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.
2. FDR described the famous “four freedoms” (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) in 1941.
3. LBJ outlined his War on Poverty in 1964.

In my opinion, as is usually the case, the evaluation of this year’s SOTU depends on one’s political preferences. Trump supporters will mostly view it as a positive, unifying speech; his detractors will view it as divisive, self-serving, and disingenuous. I, being a Trump supporter, lean toward the former.

Some general observations:

1. I liked the show of unity of most of the women wearing white. (I’ll have to ask my wife if it was “winter white” or “regular white.”)

2. The audience’s decorum was polite and professional. Not everybody applauded many of Mr. Trump’s points, but that is normal. At least no one booed or walked out that I am aware of. However, it was a little distracting to see Pelosi sitting directly behind the president periodically shuffling papers.

3. Of course, Mr. Trump summarized and defended his policies and accomplishments, such as job growth, low unemployment (particularly among women and minorities), what he called the “unprecedented booming economy,” support for the military, and decimation of ISIS.

4. The two biggest controversial comments were regarding the “lawlessness” of the southern border (I liked his chiding many of the people who criticize his border wall policy while they live behind “walls, gates, and guards,” although those with a different view might consider it to be a low blow.), and late term/partial birth abortions. The latter could be a devastating issue for Dems, prospectively.

5. Without a doubt, the biggest highlights came when Mr. Trump introduced the three D-Day survivors, the Dachau survivor, the military veteran and survivor of the shooting in Pittsburgh, and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin. What were the odds that one of the D-Day survivors would also have been one of the Dachau liberators? Also, the audience singing “Happy Birthday” to the Pittsburgh survivor was a really nice gesture.

CONCLUSION

As I said, one’s opinion of the SOTU is in the eye of the beholder. One may disagree with the substance, but at least Mr. Trump delivered it in a calm, rational, presidential manner, not at all like his normal “stump” speech.

The rebuttal was delivered by Sheri Abrams, who had lost a close race for governor of Georgia. She blamed Mr. Trump for the government shutdown and was generally critical of all things Trump. Dems loved the speech. One commentator on CNN called it the “best rebuttal ever.” Trump supporters, not so much.

Media opinions followed along party lines. CNN commentator, Van Jones, was particularly acerbic, denigrating the speech as “psychologically incoherent.” Remind me where he got his medical degree. Interestingly, Chuck Schumer criticized the speech even before it was given. How prescient. Maybe I should hire him as my new financial advisor.

CNN’s instant poll disclosed that 76% of respondents approved of the SOTU speech. CBS’s poll disclosed 72% approved of the president’s immigration policy, including the wall. I’m not sure what that augurs for the long run as a Rasmussen poll disclosed his approval rating was only 48%, roughly where it’s been.

One final note: Hopefully, independents and moderates who don’t normally get unbiased news from a biased media watched it and will be edified.

As I write this, a conference committee is meeting in an attempt to reach a compromise regarding border security issues. Let’s hope it is successful.

SUPER BOWL LIII (AKA THE PATRIOTS INVITATIONAL)

Another Super Bowl; another appearance by the New England Patriots (yawn). This will be the Patriots third appearance in a row, their 4th in the last five years, and their 11th overall. Maybe, the game should be renamed “The Patriots Invitational.” LOL.

To mark the occasion, I have compiled a quiz. Some of the questions may be too difficult for casual football fans, but I have to challenge the hard core football fans. Remember, no peeking.

1. The first Super Bowl was played in what year?

a. 1966
b. 1967
c. 1968
d. 1969

2. The losing team in the first SB was:

a. Cowboys
b. Raiders
c. Giants
d. Chiefs

3. This will be the third consecutive SB appearance for the Patriots. Which team made four consecutive appearances (and lost them all).

a. Buffalo Bills
b. Dallas Cowboys
c. Philadelphia Eagles
d. Miami Dolphins

4. Which city has hosted the most games (tied with Miami)?

a. New Orleans
b. Dallas
c. Los Angeles
d. Phoenix

5. How many Super Bowls have been decided in overtime?

a. 0
b. 1
c. 2
d. 3

6. Which franchise has won the most SBs?

a. Dallas
b. San Francisco
c. Pittsburg
d. New England

7. Each of the following teams is undefeated in SBs except:

a. Jets
b. Ravens
c. Bucs
d. Green Bay

8. The name “Super Bowl” was derived from:

a. College “bowl” games
b. Fan vote
c. Media feedback
d. Child’s toy

9. Who has won the most SB MVPs?

a. Bart Starr
b. Tom Brady
c. Eli Manning
d. Joe Montana

10. Who was the only MVP from the losing team?

a. Chuck Howley
b. Len Dawson
c. Bruce Smith
d. Icky Woods

11. How many defensive players have been MVP of a SB?

a. Two
b. Five
c. Eight
d. Ten

12. Which of the below cities has never hosted a SB?

a. Santa Clara
b. Jacksonville
c. NY
d. Washington, DC

13. Which of the below networks has not telecast any Super Bowls?

a. ABC
b. CBS
c. Fox
d. ESPN

14. Each of the following has not appeared in a SB, except:

a. Browns
b. Bengals
c. Lions
d. Jaguars

15. Who will be performing at halftime?

a. Beyonce
b. Lady Gaga
c. Gladys Knight
d. Maroon 5

16. How many times has a team played the SB in its home stadium?

a. 0
b. 1
c. 2
d. 3

17. Which team won SB VII to cap an undefeated season?
a. New York
b. Chicago
c. Miami
d. Pittsburgh

18. The coldest temperature for a SB held outdoors was 39 degrees in which city?

a. Houston
b. New Orleans
c. Stanford
d. Cleveland

19. Which of the following coaches has taken more than one team to a SB?

a. Don Shula
b. Tom Landry
c. Bill Belichek
d. Vince Lombardi

20. Which coach has the most SB wins?

a. Don Shula
b. Bill Belichick
c. Mike Shanahan
d. Chuck Noll

21. Which of the below-listed quarterbacks did not win any Super Bowls.

a. Jim Plunkett
b. Dan Marino
c. Joe Namath
d. Terry Bradshaw

22. After whom is the SB trophy named?

a. Pete Rozelle
b. Paul Brown
c. Al Davis
d. Vince Lombardi

23. Which player has won the most SB rings (tied with Tom Brady)?

a. Adam Vinatieri
b. Charles Haley
c. Terry Bradshaw
d. Bob Lilly

24. Which half-time entertainer became (in)famous for a “wardrobe malfunction?”

a. Beyoncé
b. Janet Jackson
c. Madonna
d. Lady Gaga

25. What marginal player became famous for the “helmet catch” in SBXLII (Giants vs. Pats)?

a. Plaxico Burris
b. Randy Moss
c. David Tyree
d. Bob Schnelker

Extra credit: Where did Tom Brady attend college?

ANSWERS: 1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. a (10); 5. b; 6. c; 7. d; 8. d; 9. b(4); 10. a (SB V); 11.c; 12. d; 13. d, 14. b; 15. d; 16. a; 17. c; 18. b; 19. a; 20. b(5); 21. b; 22. d; 23. b(5); 24. b; 25. c

Bonus answer: Michigan

My prediction: 31-27 Pats. I hope I’m wrong. What’s yours?