Monday, July 28, 2014

In Memory of Owen Brooks: Mississippi's Civil Rights Veteran

by Nomad

Remembering one of the veterans of the civil rights movement who never stopped fighting for the Mississippi's black community.

Owen H. Brooks is probably not a name you've heard of. I know I hadn't before I saw his obit in a Mississippi newspaper the other day.

As a civil rights leader in Mississippi for over 40 years, Brooks was one of those rare types who possessed both the motivating idealism but also the stamina and long term commitment to make a difference.

Brooks, the son of West Indian immigrants, was born in New York in 1929 and   raised in Boston.  He said that he had became politically active at the age of 13. No surprise, perhaps. It was a party of his upbringing. His mother was reportedly a big supporter of Marcus Garvey, a black leader in the early years of the 20th century who promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands.
Another childhood icon was African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson whose advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with communism, and criticism of the United States government resulted in his being blacklisted during the Red Scare of the 1950s. (Brooks actually met Robeson on several occasions.)

Brooks graduated Northeastern University as a electronics engineer but gave up that comfortable career to join the civil rights movement. Attending the March on Washington in 1963, along with more than 200,000 Americans Owen was moved by the speeches of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders.

While in Boston, Brooks had been an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and helped with fundraising efforts in Boston Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.   
He decided to put his idealism to the test and took a major step which would change his life. During early to mid 1960, all liberal eyes around the country were focused on Mississippi. In response to discriminatory state policies, thousands of idealistic civil rights workers flooded the state to defeat segregation. 

In 1965 Brook was one such "outside agitator."  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Apocalypse Avoided: Did Nazi Germany Plan to Nuke New York City?

by Nomad

Two years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, a claim  by a top level US missile defense chief reveals how close we came to nuclear war.

While trawling the archives, I stumbled across an August 2 1947 newspaper article. According to the piece, a top level official for Air Force alleged that Germans had made plans to launch a nuclear attack from the other side of the Atlantic in order to destroy New York City.

That allegation was made by Brig. General William L.Richardson in a CBS science radio show. As  chief of the Guided Missiles Division in the Office of the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff for Operations at Army Air Force headquarters, Richardson is clearly a person who ought to know what he was talking about.  His career was, to say the least, illustrious. Here's a snippet of his biography prior to this statement:
Joining the War Department General staff in June 1941, he was assigned to the Planning Branch of the Operations and Training Division.

Going to England in August 1942, General Richardson was assigned to the Eighth Air Force staff where he organized and trained its airdrome defense units. The following February he went to North Africa to study air defense operations, and in March 1943 returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, to organize and train the 51st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade. Four months later this brigade was assigned to the Fourth Air Force, which was defending the West Coast and training Air Force units for overseas theaters.
In December 1943, General Richardson organized and trained the Ninth Air Defense Command of the Ninth Air Force, and planned the air defense operations for the continental invasion. 

According to Richardson, the Germans had developed a two-stage rocket known as the "A" series, a progression of advanced rocketry. This series included the V-2 rockets which were used to devastate London and other cities in Great Britain. 
It is not hard to visualize what might have been in store for the Allies had the Germans been given sufficient time to complete developments.
The article is quite specific. Richardson explains that each of the "A" series was developed primarily for research. However, the A-4, was the only rocket design that actually became operational when it was re-named the V-2. The A-series, according to Richardson, was to culminate in the A-10, a weapon to bomb New York City from launch sites in Europe. 

The project was, in fact, codenamed Projekt Amerika with a launch date of 1946. (The rocket reportedly had one weakness, its guidance system was inaccurate at such long distances, requiring a pilot to make the one-way trip across the Atlantic.) 

Although that weapon was never actually constructed, all design studies and computation had been completed. So how close did they come to realizing the goal? 
Richardson claims that the A-10 "could have been built and served its purpose provided the German had been given another year of development and production."
Of course, some historians- with the advantage of historical perspective and later uncovered evidence- might not concur with Richardson's assessment.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Century Old Historical Mashup: Malaysian Flight MH 17 and the RMS Lusitania

by Nomad

They often say history repeats itself but that's not actually true. Usually some elements of past history are re-formed to create something vaguely familiar.

The downing of Malaysian Flight MH 17 bears some strange and ominous similarities to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania nearly one hundred years earlier.

Last month marked the 100-year anniversary of the advent of World War I. On 28 June 1914, a seemingly regional event, the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian nationalist, set off a chain of unexpected events that led to global war. 
It seems, historians tell us, that no nation was prepared to back down. The inescapable gravity of war pulled nations into a conflict that would eventually lead to the deaths of millions of lives. 

That conflict also marked the first use of poison gas on the battlefield.  In January 1915, the German military fired shells of a lethal gas, xylyl bromide, at Russian troops near the Polish village of Bolimów on the eastern front. More than 1,000 were reportedly killed as a result of this frightening new weapon. Had it not been for the cold weather, the number of fatalities could have been far higher. 

Yet as dreadful as that was, it turned out to be just a preview of things to come.

On April 22, 1915, German forces shocked Allied soldiers along the western front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres, Belgium.

The release of the gas formed a gray-green cloud that drifted across positions held by French Colonial troops from Martinique. The soldiers were terrified and fled, abandoning their trenches and left the front line exposed. In spite of that "success", the German army was unable to seize the advantage. They too were terrified of the effects of the gas.

This was a red line that no other nation had yet dared to cross.
When Allied armies claimed the gas was a clear violation of international law, the Germans simply argued that technically it was not. That ban, they claimed, cover chemical shells. The lethal gas in this battle was released through gas projectors, (or spraying mist projectors similar to those used in neighbors mosquito eradication.)

The Dangerous Illusion of Security 
As horrible as the escalation was, it too, only a month later, the world would be shocked speechless into abject revulsion.
On May 15, 1915, the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat  while  en route from New York to Liverpool, England. Warnings from the German Embassy had been published in newspapers about the risks of traveling into a war zone.

In February of that year, the German navy had adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and ,had decided to up the ante by blockade the British shipping lanes (Later investigations proved that the Germans were correct in their assumptions that munitions were being shipped via the passenger ship. That did not make the sinking of an unarmed passenger liner any less of an atrocity, of course.)

To the travelers, however,  that risk was thought to be exaggerated. The very idea of any civilized nation daring sink a huge commercial liner filled with innocent victims.
It was unthinkable.
And yet, tragically, the unthinkable sometimes happens.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oklahoma's Same Sex Marriage Ban Overturned: Learning American Civics the Hard Way

by Nomad

When federal judges overturned the same-sex marriage ban in Oklahoma, the state's governor was fighting mad. She claimed that the judges had "trampled" on states rights. Perhaps Fallin needs to remember this isn't Russia.
The American system isn't based on mob rule.

After a federal appeals courts- in keeping with a nationwide trend- ruled that Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage was a violation of the Constitution, Republican politicians in the state were predictably outraged. AP reports:
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upholding a federal judge's ruling is the latest in a decade-long legal battle. That fight was launched by two couples - Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton - shortly after 76 percent of Oklahoma voters backed the ban in 2004.
What is interesting - and somewhat depressing- was the response by conservative leaders to the news. The courts, they claimed, had overstepped its bounds. They believe that It should be up to the populations of the states to decide, not activist judges.  
The article quotes the governor of Oklahoma, the quite contrary Mary Fallin:
"Today's ruling is another instance of federal courts ignoring the will of the people and trampling on the right of states to govern themselves..In this case, two judges have acted to overturn a law supported by Oklahomans."
In typical rabble-rousing fashion, she told reporters that the decision would hopefully be overturned. That seems quite unlikely given the Supreme Court's' decision on this subject. Fallin pledged to "fight back against our federal government when it seeks to ignore or change laws written and supported by Oklahomans."

Those are provocative words, especially in a state that has already seen what happens when people "fight back against the federal government." They blow up federal office buildings and kill innocent victims including pre-school children.
It was an extremely insensitive and irresponsible thing for a governor to say when politics are already so heated.

In any case, it isn't just the federal government that people like Fallin want to take duke it out with. 
They want to overturn over nearly two hundred and fifty years of constitutional law. They literally want to outlaw the principles of the founding fathers.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Threats and Poison Letters to the President Lands Texas Actress in Prison for 18 years

by Nomad

A Texas Court threw the book at a woman for plotting to kill the president and other with poison letters in order to blame it on her husband. Politics may have had little to do with this case but threatening the president's life has become all too common.

Shouldn't the Secret Service and the courts be doing more to make this a less attractive way to get attention?

Straight from the "But.. I'm a victim too" category.

The Poison Post Plot
Shannon Guess Richardson, a 39-year-old actress from Texas, was sentenced to 18 years in prison this week for sending a trio of poison letters to politicians, including the President.
At her trial, Richardson threw out every stop to win the heart of the judge. She might have hoped to win a reduced sentence by pleading guilty to the charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin. If so,the legal ploy wasn't too successful.  
At the sentencing phase, Richardson explained that she "never intended for anybody to be hurt," and added that she was  "not a bad person; I don't have it in me to hurt anyone."

Judge Michael H. Schneider was unconvinced and gave her the maximum sentence and ordered her to pay restitution of around $367,000. He also noted that Richardson had put many lives in danger and threatened public officials.

Shannon Richardson's acting career was limited to minor roles in TV series, such as "The Walking Dead"  (Third zombie from the right.) But, due to her poorly-thought-out and very dangerous plotting,  that is all gone now.