History lessons
March 24, 2020

Christopher Kirchhoff, a former Obama administration aide who wrote a report in 2016 on the lessons learned from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, told Stat News that the United States was on the path to preparedness for a pandemic like the current novel coronavirus situation after Ebola, but never finished the job.

In his report, Kirchhoff wrote that it wasn't acceptable for the U.S. to "merely" maintain "the current scale of response activities." He told Stat that Congress, during the Ebola outbreak, passed a $5.4 billion supplemental package with a down payment to strengthen the country's pathogen surveillance and detection operations, as well as the preparedness of the health care system for an outbreak.

In terms of the latter, Kirchhoff said there were some initial investments to grow the system's capacity, but now as the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm U.S. hospitals, he said "it's pretty clear" that "we didn't follow through on more investments that were needed." Because of that, he doesn't believe the country is in an ideal position to respond to the current crisis. Read more at Stat News. Tim O'Donnell

December 9, 2019

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doesn't quite have his impeachment facts straight.

"In modern history, we've never gone after impeaching a president in the first term," McCarthy said in a Monday appearance on Fox News ahead of the House Judiciary Committee's second public impeachment hearing. McCarthy then claimed longtime impeachment advocate Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) had once said "we have to impeach [Trump] because we cannot beat him." Green specifically said he was "concerned that if we don't impeach this president, he will get re-elected" and "say he has been vindicated."

McCarthy didn't specify what he meant by modern history, but seeing as it's generally accepted to include the entire time the U.S. has existed, his statement is just false. Andrew Johnson only had one term as president, and that's also when he was impeached. And if McCarthy is just going for the last few decades, well, there's only one impeachment example to draw from, and that hardly qualifies as a precedent. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 22, 2019

President Trump said a lot of things in his digressive 35-minute back-and-forth with reporters Wednesday afternoon, from the quixotically amusing — Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell raised interest rates "too fast, too furious" — to the messianic, mendacious, and undiplomatic.

Trump also elaborated on his statement Tuesday that "Jewish people that vote for a Democrat" show "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." Some of his Republican Jewish supporters had defended the comment, widely criticized by Jewish groups and Israeli politicians, saying Trump meant Jewish Democrats are disloyal to themselves, not Israel. On Wednesday, Trump clarified: "I think if you vote for a Democrat, you are very, very disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people."

Trump comments flirted "with a notion that has fueled anti-Semitism for generations and has been at the root of some of the most brutal violence inflicted upon Jews in their history," Julie Hirschfeld Davis explains at The New York Times. "The accusation that Jews have a 'dual loyalty' ... dates back thousands of years. It animated the Nazis in 1930s Germany," and today "it is a common refrain of white supremacists who claim there is a secret plot orchestrated by Jews to replace white people through mass migration and racial integration."

Trump insisted his comments weren't anti-Semitic.

In fact, "when it comes to Jews, President Trump presents a puzzle," writes Yair Rosenberg at The Washington Post. "His daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism. ... He loudly proclaims his support for Israel and has long employed Jews in prominent positions in his businesses. But Trump also seems to say a lot of anti-Semitic things," including his frequent suggestion that "American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States."

"So is Trump a philo-Semite or an anti-Semite? The answer is both," Rosenberg writes. "Trump believes all the anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews. But he sees those traits as admirable. To Trump, the belief that Jews are foreign interlopers who use their wealth to serve their own clannish interests is not a negative — as it is for traditional anti-Semites — but rather a positive." Yes, "this form of 'positive' anti-Semitism is better than the negative kind," he adds, but "it is still deeply dangerous."

Read Rosenberg's essay on Trump's philo-Semitism at The Washington Post and a brief history of the "dual loyalty" slur at The New York Times. Peter Weber

February 26, 2019

In addition to the expected challenges of boot camp — crawling and climbing through grueling obstacle courses and getting screamed at by drill instructors — this year's youngest Marine recruits have also had to sit through a history lesson.

While a flood of recruits born after Sept. 11, 2001 are expected to enter boot camp this summer, The Wall Street Journal reports, some 17-year-olds have already arrived at places like Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island, where they hear from instructors who walk them through the terrorist attacks that preceded the United States' nearly two-decade long engagement in Afghanistan.

Recruits learn anecdotes from the day — such as the passengers who stormed the cockpit to take back control of United's Flight 93 before crashing it into a field outside of Shanksville, Penn. — and are shown a collage of the faces of the 2,977 individuals who died in the attacks. They also learn about the Taliban and are informed about the early stages of the War on Terror.

One recruit told the Journal that that he knew very little about Sept. 11 other than that it was a "turning point in our nation's history." Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

August 27, 2018

On Aug. 26, 1968, the Beatles released "Hey Jude," Paul McCartney's attempt to comfort 5-year-old Julian Lennon upon the breakup of his parents, John and Cynthia. The song, which clocks in at a ridiculously long seven-plus minutes — including three minutes of "naaah-naaah-naah-na-na-na-naaaah" — went on to be the Beatles' biggest hit, topping the U.S. charts for nine weeks. It was also the first single on the band's Apple label. On Sept. 4, 1968, the Beatles recorded a performance of "Hey Jude" at Abbey Road Studios, bringing in fans and locals for the finale — including one older man in a blue suit who appears to be irritating Paul by the end of the song.

This was the first time the Beatles had performed in public since 1966 — much of the song is prerecorded, but Paul is singing live throughout. '"Hey Jude' sums up the Beatles' turbulent summer of 1968 — a tribute to their friendship, right at the moment it was starting to fracture," Rob Sheffield writes at Rolling Stone, noting that Ringo Starr had briefly quit the band four days before the song's U.S. release, during the recording of the White Album. "'Hey Jude' is a tribute to everything the Beatles loved and respected most about each other," and it's still relevant, 50 years later, he adds:

The pain in "Hey Jude" resonated in 1968, in a world reeling from wars, riots, and assassinations. And it's why it sounds timely in the summer of 2018, as our world keeps getting colder. After 50 years, "Hey Jude" remains a source of sustenance in difficult times — a moment when four longtime comrades, clear-eyed adults by now, take a look around at everything that's broken around them. Yet they still join together to take a sad song and make it better. [Rolling Stone]

You can read the rest of Sheffield's love letter to the enduring anthem at Rolling Stone. Peter Weber

November 28, 2017

On Monday evening, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) explained — as she has since her successful 2012 campaign to unseat Sen. Scott Brown (R) — that she believes she has Cherokee ancestry because "I learned about my family's heritage the same way everyone else does — from my parents and grandparents. I never asked for and never got any benefit from it." The prompt for this was President Trump trotting out his "Pocahontas" epithet during an event to honor Navajo code talkers, heroes of World War II.

Trump has used his nickname for Warren several times since 2016, usually suggesting incorrectly — as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did on Monday — that Warren used her claimed Native American ancestry for professional gain. Trump himself claimed, wrongly, to be of Swedish heritage as least until 1987 — he wrote in The Art of the Deal that his grandfather had come to the U.S. from Sweden. Actually, The Boston Globe reported last year and Axios recalled on Monday, Trump's father, Fred Trump, made up the Swedish ancestry after World War II so he wouldn't have problems selling apartments to Jewish buyers on account of his German heritage. (Friedrich Trump immigrated to New York from Germany in 1885.)

There is no evidence that Warren has any Native American ancestry, though as Garance Franke-Ruta detailed at The Atlantic in 2012, there's also zero evidence Warren "used her claim of Native American ancestry to gain access to anything much more significant than a cookbook." And Trump and Warren aren't alone — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) learned his parents didn't flee Fidel Castro's Cuba and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright learned her parents were Jewish only after the news media dug around a bit, after they were in public office. Peter Weber

November 1, 2017

In a Fox News interview Monday night, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that "Robert E. Lee was an honorable man" who "gave up his country for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country," and argued that "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War." In defending those assertions about the Civil War on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "many historians" agree with Kelly "that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War." Civil War historians tell The Washington Post that Kelly's views on the war are outdated or debunked, "sad," "strange," "dangerous," and "kind of depressing."

"It's the Jim Crow version of the causes of the Civil War," Columbia University history professor Stephanie McCurry, who wrote a book on the Civil War, told the Post. "I mean, it tracks all of the major talking points of this pro-Confederate view of the Civil War." "This is profound ignorance," said David Blight, a history professor and Civil War author at Yale. "I mean, it's one thing to hear it from Trump ... but General Kelly has a long history in the American military." Ken Burns, who made a long Civil War documentary, was succinct:

"In 1861, compromise wasn't possible because some Southerners just wanted out; they wanted a separate nation where they could protect slavery into the indefinite future," McCurry said. "That's what they said when they seceded. That's what they said in their constitution." Blight added that "of course we yearn for compromise," but "look, Robert E. Lee was not a compromiser. He chose treason. ... Lee was a Confederate nationalist." You can read more of their critiques at The Washington Post, and watch a more late-night takedown of Kelly from Late Night's Amber Ruffin below. Peter Weber

October 3, 2016

Before Donald Trump suggested that Hillary Clinton had not been "loyal to Bill," the well-telegraphed line of attack regarding Bill Clinton and infidelities was supposed to be about how Hillary Clinton aggressively defended Bill from his female accusers and paramours in the 1990s. On Sunday, The New York Times took a long look at what role Clinton actually played in defending her husband from her accusers, following a similar look back in The Washington Post.

Hillary Clinton did not say too much publicly about Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky, the three most public sex scandals of Bill Clinton's presidency. She said Flowers has "got lots of problems" on Arsenio Hall in 1992, and in an ABC News interview called her "some failed cabaret singer who doesn't even have much of a résumé to fall back on"; in a private conversation with her late friend Diane Blair, according to Blair's diary, Clinton said she believed Bill had tried to break things off with "narcissistic loony toon" Lewinsky.

Behind the scenes, it's less than clear what role Clinton played, other than that she assented to the Clinton campaign's strategy of hiring private investigator Jack Palladino to dig into the history of Bill's accusers. According to friends, she knew Bill had been unfaithful before but thought he had overcome his infidelity issues by the late 1980s. "You've got to believe that Hillary Clinton wanted to protect her husband and thought he was being unfairly charged," Mickey Kantor, Clinton's 1992 campaign chairman, tells The New York Times. "Does she know more today than she did then? Of course."

Trump and his advocates accuse Clinton of being an "enabler" of her husband's infidelity — an interesting charge, given Trump's own marital history. Hillary Clinton's campaign called the allegations old and well-tread history and released statements from James Lyons, the lawyer to whom Palladino answered, and James Carville, Bill Clinton's top 1992 strategist. Lyons said that Hillary Clinton "was not involved in hiring" Palladino, and Carville said that "Hillary wanted us to defend the governor against attacks," but that "it's just ridiculous to imagine that she was somehow directing our response operation. That was my job, not hers." You can read more at The New York Times and The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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