History Lesson
February 10, 2020

While addressing the nation's governors at the White House on Monday, President Trump took a shot at the European Union and NATO.

NATO, he said, was "going down like a rocket ship" before he came in and saved the day by convincing other member states to contribute more money. But he seemed generally pleased with the direction things are going. That's not the case for the EU, which Trump claimed is treating the United States "very badly."

Trump even argued one of the "primary reasons" the EU was formed was so its member states could pick on the U.S, which is a claim that doesn't really have much going for it historically. The EU is the final stage of a progression of a continent-wide economic community that was first implemented in the aftermath of World War II. Seeking to avoid a third conflict on such a scale, European leaders at the time sought to create a cooperative system in which countries could trade with little hindrance. Eventually, that morphed into the current EU, which has expanded beyond just economic unity.

The supranational organization obviously hasn't always seen eye to eye with the U.S. on all matters, but it's a reach to say those disagreements were the reason it was formed in the first place. Tim O'Donnell

February 6, 2020

The Roman senator Marcus Brutus literally stabbed his friend Julius Caesar in the back. You could look at this as a great betrayal, as Lou Dobbs did on Fox Business show Wednesday night when he savaged Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) for voting to convict President Trump of abuse of power in Trump's impeachment trial. "Romney is going to be associated with Judas, Brutus, Benedict Arnold forever, when he is not even a footnote in a footnote otherwise, because of his betrayal," Dobbs said.

But Brutus, according to Shakespeare and contemporaneous accounts, was motivated to take part in Caesar's assassination because Caesar's increasingly monarchical and authoritarian behavior threatened to destroy the Roman Republic. The phrase he is purported to have said while stabbing Caesar, "Sic semper tyrannis!" — or "Thus, always, to tyrants!" — is now Virginia's official motto. On the other hand, Dante places both Brutus and Judas Iscariot in the lowest circle of hell, so it's complicated.

In any case, Caesar died and Trump was acquitted with all but one Republican voting against conviction and every Democrats voting in favor. And despite Brutus' desperate bid to save the republic, it soon fell to a Roman Empire led by Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, renamed Augustus. Brutus, like Judas, killed himself in despair. Romney, according to former adviser Stuart Stevens, "will sleep very well tonight." Peter Weber

January 15, 2020

President Trump may need a history tutor.

A Very Stable Genius, a new book by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig based on hundreds of interviews, alleges Trump seemed to know next to nothing about the events of Dec. 7, 1941 when he visited Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for a private tour of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial alongside his former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general.

"Hey, John, what's this all about?" Trump reportedly asked Kelly. "What's this a tour of?"

The authors wrote, per an excerpt in the Post, that Trump did seem to understand Pearl Harbor was significant, but was light on the details. He reportedly appeared to think he was visiting the site of a historic battle, which isn't necessarily an inaccurate description — the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise Japanese military strike against a U.S. naval base that prompted Washington's entry into World War II.

Either way, it's generally considered one of the more significant singular events in U.S. history, so it's probably worthwhile for the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to become familiar. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

January 10, 2020

What would happen if the United States accidentally shot down a jetliner like Iran apparently did this week? There's no need to speculate, as Fox News' Geraldo Rivera just pointed out.

The hosts of Fox & Friends on Friday discussed news that officials believe the Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed near Tehran earlier this week, killing 176 people, was mistakenly shot down by Iran. "Can you imagine if the United States of America accidentally shot down a jetliner," Steve Doocy asked.

"Well, you know Steve, we did in 1988," Geraldo Rivera noted, referring to Iran Air Flight 655, which in July of that year was mistakenly shot down by the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. As CNN notes, the USS Vincennes' captain was wrongly told the passenger jet might be an Iranian F-14, which the U.S. military believed to be equipped with Maverick missiles.

"If the unknown aircraft was carrying those Maverick missiles, the U.S. captain had less than five minutes to decide if his ship was in danger," and he gave the order to fire, CNN writes, citing the U.S. Navy report on the incident. After Iran sued the U.S. government, the suit was settled in 1996, and the U.S. paid $62 million.

"It was something that took us years to live down," Rivera noted. Brendan Morrow

November 27, 2019

The Supreme Court is expected to be a neutral arbiter, but there's a sense that could be put to an "existential test" in this hyperpartisan era, The Washington Post reports.

Yet, history suggests the Court likely won't split when it comes to legal questions concerning the president, even though there are two Trump appointed justices on the bench. It's not the first time justices have had to deal with cases crucial to the president who nominated them, after all.

The Post notes that three justices appointed by former President Richard Nixon joined the unanimous ruling requiring him to turn over the now-infamous, eponymous tapes in a criminal investigation resulting from Watergate, which eventually led to his resignation. Another justice, William Rehnquist, even recused himself because he had previously worked in the Nixon administration (some people argue the Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh should do the same, the Post reports).

Likewise, current Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer ruled alongside their cohort in 1997's unanimous ruling that forced then-President Bill Clinton to answer Paula Jones' lawsuit accusing him of sexual advances. Ginsburg and Breyer were both Clinton nominees, and the decision was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who led the court's liberal wing at the time.

So, partisanship hasn't been a hindrance in impeachment-related legal cases in the past for the Supreme Court. Of course, history doesn't always repeat itself. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

September 4, 2019

The FBI is monitoring activist groups who are protesting U.S. immigration policy at the southern border, Yahoo News reports. That sounds extreme, considering most of the evidence cited in a report by the Phoenix FBI office reportedly described nonviolent protest activity.

Activists and civil rights advocates are reportedly worried by the news. They think the government is trying to stifle legitimate civil disobedience and government opposition by labeling it violent extremism or domestic terrorism. But Mike German, a former FBI special agent and fellow at New York University who has written about surveillance of activists, said that while the report appears to be evidence of the bureau's overreach, the FBI has long zeroed in on nonviolent activists.

"It's been a feature of the post-9/11 counterterrorism effort by the FBI to focus on nonviolent civil disobedience and to prioritize it," German said. "For several years after 9/11, the FBI called environmental activists the no. 1 domestic terror threat, even though there's not a single homicide related to environmental 'terrorists' in the United States." German cited a 2010 report from the FBI's inspector general which criticized the bureau for classifying nonviolent claims related to protests by groups like PETA and Greenpeace as "terrorism."

The FBI, for its part, said the report out of the Phoenix office was "intended to be informative in nature" and contains "appropriate caveats to describe the confidence in the sourcing of information and the likelihood of the assessment." Read more at Yahoo News. Tim O'Donnell

April 16, 2019

Stonehenge still has its mysteries, but a new study offers up some intriguing information on the people who presumably built the stone circle in southwest Britain starting in about 3000 BC. The people who erected the mysterious stone monument descended from Neolithic farmers who brought agriculture to Britain in about 4000 BC, after traveling across the Mediterranean to the Iberian peninsula from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey and Greece) in about 6000 BC, researchers in London report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Anatolian migrants brought agriculture to all of Western Europe, populated before then by small groups of hunter-gatherers, but two things set the British settlers apart, the researchers found.

First, unlike the majority of Neolithic farmers who traveled to Central and Western Europe along the Danube, the Neolithic Britons traveled across the Mediterranean and first settled in modern-day Spain and Portugal. Second, they didn't appear to mix with the darker-skin hunter-gatherers. "We don't find any detectable evidence at all for the local British western hunter-gatherer ancestry in the Neolithic farmers after they arrive," Tom Booth, a specialist in ancient DNA from London's Natural History Museum and co-author of the study, tells BBC News. "That doesn't mean they don't mix at all, it just means that maybe their population sizes were too small to have left any kind of genetic legacy."

"In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths," BBC News reports. "Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition," though there's evidence of megalithic structures along Europe's Atlantic coast. But history didn't end with the Anatolian immigrants. In about 2450 BC, the shrinking population of Neolithic farmers was almost entirely replace by a new group, the Bell Beaker people, from mainland Europe, the researchers found. Peter Weber

January 17, 2019

"This wasn't the argument that I set out to make," that Congress must impeach President Trump, Yoni Appelbaum says at The Atlantic. But after researching the previous three impeachments in U.S. history, it became clear pundits and Democratic leaders "have overlearned the lessons of Bill Clinton's impeachment, which backfired on his accusers" in 1998, "and entirely forgotten the real significance of Andrew Johnson's" in 1868.

By Appelbaum's estimation, Trump's multi-pronged "attack on the very foundations of America's constitutional democracy" already more than qualifies him for impeachment and removal from office, but even if the Senate disagrees and fails to convict, the process is its own remedy "in five distinct forms," he explains in The Atlantic's March cover story, posted online late Wednesday:

In these five ways — shifting the public's attention to the president's debilities, tipping the balance of power away from him, skimming off the froth of conspiratorial thinking, moving the fight to a rule-bound forum, and dealing lasting damage to his political prospects — the impeachment process has succeeded in the past. In fact, it's the very efficacy of these past efforts that should give Congress pause; it's a process that should be triggered only when a president's betrayal of his basic duties requires it. But Trump's conduct clearly meets that threshold. The only question is whether Congress will act. [Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic]

"It is absurd to suggest that the Constitution would delineate a mechanism too potent to ever actually be employed," Appelbaum writes. "With a newly seated Democratic majority, the House of Representatives can no longer dodge its constitutional duty. It must immediately open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and bring the debate out of the court of public opinion and into Congress, where it belongs." Read the entire history lesson and argument for impeachment, including where Bill Clinton's accusers went wrong and Hillary Clinton's earlier cameo in impeachment law, at The Atlantic.

See More Speed Reads