Wednesday, October 12, 2011

December 20, 1989 – Canal Sabotage as Panama Invasion Commences

As part of the growing War on Drugs that had been declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971 and redoubled by President George Bush, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was indicted on drug-trafficking charges and endangering American nationals in addition to his more obvious crime of suppressing democracy. Sparked by the shooting death of a US Marine at a roadblock on December 16, nine thousand US troops entered Panama in Operation Just Cause, joining the some 12,000 others that were already there as part of the defense of the jointly owned Panama Canal (set to revert to Panamanian control in the year 2000 under the Torrijos–Carter Treaties). Noriega’s pet army of the Panamanian Defense Forces was easily defeated with minimal resistance, except for a devious counterattack with an unassuming small freighter that rested in the Canal near the Gatun Locks.

Rigged with explosives on a timer, the freighter exploded while unoccupied, killing several sailors on nearby boats and one canal worker. While the damage to the Canal was not catastrophic, it would take months to repair back to full capacity, frustrating international shipping and making a noticeable dent on the world economy with the Dow Jones dropping briefly below 1,000 points. News of the strike shocked military commanders and President Bush, who had been largely in control of the situation. Although only twenty-three US soldiers and three American civilians were killed (opposed to 150 PDF and some 500 Panamanian civilians), the invasion would have a black smear in the public view.

While the fighting ended shortly after it had begun, Noriega found asylum in the Vatican anuncio and did not surrender until arrested by US Drug Enforcement agents on January 3. During this time, the US scrambled to polish its image. Polls sponsored by CBS and articles by the New York Times showed that Panamanians were pleased that the dictator had been overthrown and the properly elected Guillermo Endara sworn into office; even those who had suffered property damage or the loss of loved ones supported the US invasion by as much as 80 percent. Other news sources were not as friendly, giving accounts such as those from Paul Eisner of Newsday describing blacklists and “sapo” informers upon neighbors as well as the Miami Herald’s report of "Neighbors saw six U.S. truck loads bringing dozens of bodies to a mass grave” and a mother’s "voice rose over the crowd's silence: 'Damn the Americans.'"

International disapproval arose, made all the louder by the economic fallout of the damaged Canal. The Organization of American States and the European Parliament made formal protests, calling the move a violation of international law. As public criticism grew, more stories began to come out about Noriega’s past. Most recognized him as a money-launderer and drug-trafficker, but the story of his origins by CIA support became widespread. Noriega had been picked by the CIA as a potential block to fears of Central American communism in 1970, but was dropped from the payroll in 1977 after he had become mixed in drugs. Two years later, the Sandinista National Liberation Front came to power in Nicaragua, and Noriega was tapped again to keep communism from spreading and became dictator in 1983. Throughout the Reagan Administration, which came into its own problems with illegal activity in the Iran-Contra Affair, Noriega enjoyed American support as he rigged elections and was condemned by US Senate committee reviews of drug traffic. Upon word that Noriega may have been connected with Cuba and the Sandanistas, he was cut off by the US government. After his arrest in 1989, he would be sentenced in 1992 to federal prison for forty years.

President Bush raced to salvage his administration, citing his own experience with the CIA and admitting that certain intelligence activities were necessary to stop the spread of communism. With the Berlin Wall falling in August and the Soviet departure from Afghanistan earlier in February, he noted that American fears of international instability had been satiated and now was the time to “clean up the mess.” With new policies on cutting international aid from dictators and new CIA transparency, a wave of revolution watched over by UN and largely American forces came in several countries such as Nigeria with free elections. Most famous would be the removal of Saddam Hussein at the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 after his invasion of Kuwait. The actions would give Bush a narrow election victory for a second term after successfully winning support in Maine and Colorado from Ross Perot’s dropping out of his campaign in July of 1992. The fall of the Soviet Union that December would be a further feather in Bush’s hat.


In reality, there was no strike against the Panama Canal. Although sometimes condemned, Operation Just Cause would remove one of many dictators established by CIA and US support as part of Cold War strategies.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

December 4, 1952 – Weather Settles to Spawn the Great Smog Panic in London

In a somewhat rare weather phenomenon, an anticyclone formed over London during the bitter cold of the late 1952 winter. Something like an inverted hurricane, the anticyclone is a clockwise (counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere) rotation of winds around a high pressure region above a cold pocket. Inside, air becomes even colder and typically drier with clear skies, though it can also produce heavy fog as surface relative humidity increases. The lack of internal wind compounds gasses that would typically escape, which became the key to creating a nightmarish weather condition that plagued London for five days.

As the anticyclone settled over London, most citizens thought little more of the colder weather than an annoyance. They heaped more coal onto their furnaces and turned on lights, which meant more electricity from the coal-power plants around London. As the fires continued, the windless low pressure system did not let the smoke escape, and pollutants like carbon soot, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide began to thicken the growing fog. By December 5, visibility was reduced to a few yards.

Even though it was a thick, smoky fog, Londoners did not raise concern quickly. The old days of “pea soupers” (fogs as metaphorically as thick as pea soup, sometimes even green-tinted fog from industrial pollutants in the nineteenth century) were not far in the past, and London had always been known for its fog. Children were released from school as “parents were advised not to risk letting their children get lost on the way to school,” according to Prime Minister Ken Livingstone, who experienced the Great Smog as a boy. Above-ground traffic came to a standstill, ending all public transport outside of the Underground. Even ambulance services were halted, forcing the ill to get to hospital on their own.

Somewhere amid the haze, a rumor started that the smog was poisonous. It was in fact poisonous, due to its composition of pollutants, but most had fair air quality within their homes and wore handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses when they went out. Young children and people with respiratory problems were the few to face real danger. However, as people saw more and more deaths (estimates calculate that 4,000 more people died than usual), panic began to strike. People attempted to flee their homes, overloading the Underground until it too broke down and was unfixable in the dense fog.

As December 6 and 7 rolled on, the fog became denser. In some places, visibility decreased to less than a foot, making walkers outside unable to see their feet or even their hands with arms outstretched. Smoky fog seeped into buildings where it could, and the panic turned to all-out chaos. Rioters smashed into shops initially looting survival gear and then, after it became obvious police were unable to respond, anything of value. Fires broke out, adding to the smog and sense of Armageddon. As reporters and what newspapers were able to continue to print spread word of the madness, riots spread further.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill called in aid from the armed forces who were able to communicate by radio but unable to react to one another outside of a few yards. They attempted to canvas the city, but resources were stretched too thin to alleviate much of the rioting and damage. Primarily, the soldiers assisted in evacuating the city, a sight not seen since the days of the Blitz, escorting civilians onto special slow-moving trains bound for the North and Southwest.

Finally on December 9, the anticyclone dissipated, and the fog lifted from the scarred remains. An estimated 8,000 more people died due to respiratory complications, and commerce in the city was limited for weeks during cleanup. The government launched into numerous studies on the problems of low-grade coal fires and began legislation promoting paraffin heaters and then electric. Further actions led to the Clean Air Act of 1956, much improving restrictions on pollutants. Meanwhile, other studies questioned the impact of media on spreading the panic. The Conservative government put into effect new regulations managing the emotional coverage of news in times of emergency, reestablishing review boards similar to those during the counterespionage days of WWII.

Although rarely taken into play, numerous fines were handed out for reports on the battles between Mods and Rockers during Whitsun weekend in 1964, giving ironic government support to the youth subcultures as media portrayed them as folk devils.


In reality, there was not much concern over the Great Smog. It was not until after the fog cleared that doctors and coroners began to notice the increased death numbers. Environmentalism came to the forefront of the political discussion, and numerous Clean Air Acts have since been passed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

December 3, 1839 - Abraham Lincoln Fails his Admission to the US Circuit Court

In another critical moment of failure of famed States Rights advocate Abraham Lincoln, his application to practice law at the federal level was dismissed, possibly due to finagling from Democratic opponents. The grounds for refusal were based in his fiery rhetoric and several challenges of his character, giving examples from his history of scatological humor and rough story telling. Lincoln could not deny these remarks and attempted a defense on First Amendment Free Speech, but he would soon give up as he fell into one of his "melancholies" (believed to be what modern psychologists would call clinical depression).

Lincoln's life had been fraught with hardships. Born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky in 1809, young Lincoln was the son of Thomas Lincoln, who had become a wealthy and respectable man in the real estate business until he was wiped out in 1816 due to court cases over a faulty title. They moved to Indiana, a state where slavery was banned, and tragedy struck again as milk sickness (tremetol poisoning) took Lincoln's mother. Frontier life was hard, and the Lincolns moved westward again to Illinois to a new homestead. Lincoln left home and worked on a river barge before returning and starting a store that would ultimately fail. After losing a political campaign in 1832 and serving as a captain in the Black Hawk War, Lincoln finally found his path as an orator and lawyer.

He was famously self-educated, stating, "I studied with nobody." Instead, Lincoln read Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, the Revised Statutes of Indiana, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution while working as a secretary and surveyor in New Salem, Illinois. In 1834, along with his legal firm, he successfully began his career with the Illinois General Assembly as a Whig, following his hero Henry Clay, whose American System ideals he had begun to follow passionately. As a Whig, he would be firmly for investment in infrastructure to improve the nation, voting for projects such as the Illinois and Michigan Canal to connect Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, roads, and railroads. With the Panic of 1837, however, the projects became bankrupt and Illinois was “littered with unfinished roads and partially dug canals" while its bonds tumbled in value. Lincoln suggested making up the money by Illinois purchasing federal land and selling it for a profit to private citizens, which the federal government refused. These disappointments by federalism would later impact his philosophy of state self-dependence.

Just as his career seemed to be on the proper path, Lincoln's subtly failing strength as a Whig became a stumbling block blamed for costing him the ability to argue cases in the US Circuit Court. His world collapsed as he settled into depression, even skipping offers by John Todd Stuart, a war buddy and benefactor who had inspired Lincoln to take up law, to meet his cousin Mary Todd. Eventually the two would meet and even marry, though they once broke their engagement due to second thoughts. During this time, Lincoln determined his ideas on independence and voluntary mass-agreements, like marriage, and he focused on local items for his legal practice and political career supporting federalism as less important.

In 1847, Lincoln advanced to the federal level as a representative in the US House. He argued bitterly against the Mexican-American War (disgusted with calls for the glories of war, which he called an “attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood”) and reaffirmed his “free soil” stance on slavery saying, "the Congress of the United States has the power, under the constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; but that power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District” while still denouncing the evils of slave-holding. He was rewarded with his support during the election of Zachary Taylor with an offering to be governor of the new Oregon Territory, but Lincoln declined, wanting to stay close to his home of Illinois.

Lincoln spent the next decade working to support his home state, running unsuccessfully in the 1858 Senate campaign but becoming famous after his publication of speeches in the Douglas-Lincoln Debates, including “I believe this government can endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will be divided.” He was proven wrong with the secession of the South after the narrow 1860 election of William H. Seward. During the Civil War, Lincoln argued for the rights of Southerners but agreed that a violation of the agreement of Union had taken place. He begrudgingly supported military action and rose significantly to the Illinois Senate, where his aid bills laid groundwork for military planning in decades to come.

After the war and the assassination of Seward, Lincoln became a powerful voice on Reconstruction and the necessity to return the South to normalcy, including the return of many rights. Gathering support from other wings of the Republicans and even former supporters of Douglas as well as revealing much of the corruption of victory-profiteers, Lincoln challenged and would eventually overthrow the Radical Republicans even though he had agreed with them on many anti-slavery issues before. Eventually, Lincoln’s fair-mindedness and disgust of corruption would get him elected President of the United States in 1868. Due to his deteriorating health and the increasing mental illness of his wife, Lincoln would retire from politics at the end of his term, though he had already set a new precedent for the United States with regional interest and a successful plurality of political parties. Many scholars would say this disjointedness did much to limit federal power that could have alleviated social woes in the next century’s Great Depression.


In reality, Lincoln successfully passed on to argue in the US Circuit Court and continued his belief in an American system, championing many Whig and later Republican ideals. His victories through political thought and the Civil War laid much of America’s groundwork of federalism.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

November 30, 1876 - Forward Pass Declared Illegal in American Football

During an early game of American Football, a pivotal moment took place when Yale athletic legend Walter Camp tossed the ball forward while in mid-tackle to his teammate Oliver Thompson, who then went on to score a touchdown. The opposing team, Princeton, protested as only backward passes to teammates. As it was an action performed in a tackle, the beguiled referee determined to settle the decision with a flipped coin. In the end, Princeton was supported, and the touchdown was nullified, along with the notion of a “forward pass” in American-style football.

Americans had been playing various non-codified games for decades already by the time modern football began to take form. Early in the nineteenth century, boys and men alike often played forms of “mob football” that date back to English games of time immemorial. Rules varied from town to town, with the “Boston Game” taking the lead as a hybrid of the diverging “kicking” and “carrying” games that would later evolve into Association Football (soccer) and rugby, respectively. The Oneida Football Club of boys on the Boston Common established rules in 1862 for the first organized take on what would become the modern game. It was an uphill battle, however, as football was routinely being banned from universities as too dangerous or unbecoming of gentlemen, and it would be years until these organized fellows went to college themselves with a proven formula for gameplay.

The bans on football ended, and colleges began to play one another in a loose intercollegiate league including Rutgers, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia. These big four schools met in 1873 to determine a standardized set of rules that would resemble soccer more than rugby. Meanwhile, Harvard, McGill, and Tufts continued the fascination with the Boston Game, more rugby than soccer and incorporating the “try”, which would evolve into the “touchdown” of carrying the ball into the end zone. In 1875, Harvard and Yale met for the first “The Game”, which became an annual event, and a new league was born as they decided to make the hybrid football the new standard for competition. On November 23, 1876, a new conference determined official rules for college football, among them making note of, but not clarifying, the forward pass.

In the Yale-Princeton game the next week, the forward pass would officially be laid to rest. Camp was disappointed with the choice, but he worked to determine a better, faster game where speed became as important as brawn. He created the line of scrimmage and a system of downs to move the game in increments, creating an ordered form of strategy and cleverness where there had once been only mobs. Camp also determined game length, field size, and scoring methods, creating the skeleton of what would be American football today.

Key to the game was the idea of movement, which would prove its most influential piece as the twentieth century dawned. Players typically followed mass formations, moving violently as one unit and often crushing opponents during a charge. In 1905 alone, nineteen young men were killed, and cries arose for safety on the field, even to the point President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to end football nationwide. An attempt to limit scrimmages was made, but the resulting punting game did not work well. With the forward pass having been declared illegal, the solution came to be ending mass formations, making each individual a significant piece to the eleven-member team.

Under Coach “Pop” Warner, one of the most influential football players of all time, Native American Jim Thorpe, would revolutionize the game with his expert moves. Pop did not want the fragile track star to play in football on fears he would be injured, but Thorpe convinced him to try a play against the defensive line and "ran around past and through them not once, but twice." Later that year, Thorpe would single-handedly score all of the points for Carlisle Indian Industrial School in an upset victory over the famed Harvard team, 18-15. Coaches across the nation hurried to emulate the apparent need for speed, finally matching Camp’s dream of a fast game working from a series of plays.

Since that time, American football has grown to enormous popularity and a multi-billion dollar industry. While America’s pastime of baseball became notoriously corrupt and slow, football has grown to be its rival, making key advances in its skillfulness and complex, eager maneuvers in high scoring games. Another rival, basketball, has taken its own season with some players in college crossing over due to the similarities in passing and running, but still with the unique feature of a pausing scrimmage and of course the famed tackles of blinding gymnastic agility.


In reality, the coin toss gave America its first forward pass. While still technically illegal, the pass would happen again in 1895 in a successful attempt by the Tar Heels to break a zero-zero tie between North Carolina and Georgia. After further experimentation, the forward pass was approved in the 1906 revisions and has become a mainstay of American football to this day.

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