Forced Uighur Assimilation: Deja Vu?

OK, reader, let’s assume that you were forcibly taken from your family and home to a residential school by age 6. There, you would not be able to speak your native language or practice your native religion. You couldn’t wear your traditional clothing and would be thoroughly regimented. You would not be able to leave the school voluntarily. What actually took place in your new residence and school would be mostly kept from public view. The public would be told that you are being well taken care of and are learning useful vocational skills. You are not allowed to complain about what happens to you. The government is finding ways to settle people on the lands so long used by your families.

You are at a “reeducation” camp. You are being forced to assimilate; or, to put it another way, forced to participate in the genocide of your culture.

So, who are you and where are you?

Your choices are: (1) boarding schools for Native Americans; or, (2) boarding schools for Uighurs currently living in Xinjiang Province in China.

Actually, you could be at either one. Maybe that helps explain why there isn’t that much outrage over what is happening to the Uighurs in China? Whenever the U.S. complains, which it seldom does, about what China is doing to its Uighurs, the Chinese government will bring up what the U.S. did with its Native Americans. V.P. Pence and Sec. of State Pompeo have condemned Chinese policies towards the Uighurs. But, has President Trump applied sanctions on China for these policies?

No. He has several times expressed praise for China’s strongman Xi Jinping without expressing reservations about Xi’s human rights abuses which have become worse over time.

The Chinese will cite that there have been terrorist activities carried out by Uighurs. And, there have been as part of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group that uses violence to set up an independent East Turkistan. That movement is considered by the U.N. Security Council and by the U.S. government, post 9/11, as a terrorist organization. One could argue that the U.S. and the U.N. have provided the Chinese government with a rationale for their above described policy though, in fact, there have been but a few Uighurs who have conducted terrorist attacks.

Well, how about the “hostiles” among our Native Americans who resisted, by force, being placed on reservations on land that no white man wanted?

Are there significant differences between the two choices noted above? Yes, (1) the Chinese have implanted a thorough going surveillance system to track residents wherever they go using facial recognition cameras and DNA samples tied to a database. But, those kinds of technology were unknown in the later 19th century in the U.S. (2) The Native Americans were NOT U.S. citizens whereas the Uighurs are Chinese citizens. But, does Chinese citizenship entitle the Uighurs to anything like our Bill of Rights? Only in theory. (3) the Uighurs are Muslims while the Native Americans had their own religions. (4) The ETIM is tied to terrorist groups outside of China including the Taliban and Al Qaeda whereas the Native Americans had no such support.

Given our own history with Native Americans and more recently with those detained near our border, what should President Trump do about the human rights abuses carried out against the Uighurs?


China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Far More Than the Old Silk Road

Suzanne, my wife, and I have been on the old silk road in Kazakhstan.  If there is a “middle of nowhere” this had to be it!  The photo below is a caravansary which was a welcome place to stay on the way to and from China to the Middle East on the old silk road.  Its origins dated to the second century BCE and was an important trade route until the end of the 14th century.  While it was known for the transport of silk, it had other purposes as well.

As important and exotic it may have been, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is much more sweeping in its purposes and connections.  As the map here shows, its Belts (actually the roads) and the Roads (actually the sea routes) connect multiple cultures and nations, 71 by recent count.  It encompasses over half of the world’s population and a quarter of the global BDP.  It meets China’s needs for markets to its excess capacity while open for trade from many nations.  China has already invested $210 billion in it, chiefly construction of infrastructure and will amount to at least $340 billion for those purposes.

Art and Suzanne Pitz on a Caravansari on the Old Silk Road

It has proved controversial since a number of the impacted nations now owe half of their foreign debt to China.  The list includes Djibouti, Kyrgystan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.  This “debt trap diplomacy” understandably worries many about Chinese economic imperialism.  In response, China has forgiven substantial amounts of that debt perhaps to curry favor.  There have also been concerns that the belts for trade could also be belts for the Chinese military though China has yet to exhibit much interest in doing so outside of developing a port/base at Djibouti.

So, what is China up to?  Much of it is Xi’s vision for China. He has been heavily influenced by studies of the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty.  Its crises came to a bloody height in the 1860s rather like the U.S. has been so influenced by its own Civil War.   That era included a series of “unequal” treaties begun with Great Britain’s successful efforts to force China to accept the importation of opium.  China had a huge army and a decent sized navy with cannon, but the British cannon outranged the Chinese.

Gunboat diplomacy worked and China paid the price.  Xi is not about to have China give in to any more unequal treaties.  Instead, his vision for China’s return to greatness is hinged on the Belt and Road Initiative.  It is more than about hard infrastructure.  It includes China setting up international courts to resolve commercial disputes relating to this Initiative based on models established by Dubai and Singapore that have been accepted.  Will those courts indeed be independent of Beijing?

As an example of its importance, the map makes clear that Iran is essential for the initiative’s success.  Hence, China has become Iran’s main weapons provider and co-conspirator in finding ways to evade Trump’s sanctions on Iran.  It does not appear that President Trump is sufficiently aware of Xi’s motivations and goals.  How should the U.S. deal with this Initiative in your view?

South China Sea: Overlapping Claims

Take a look at the map of the overlapping claims in the South China Sea.  Why should we pay attention?


For one, close to 30% of all of the world’s trade goes through it.  Most are aware of the importance of the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Gibraltar, and the Strait of Hormuz; however, not so many know about the strategic location of the Strait of Malacca which helps make Singapore a wealthy city state.

Secondly, it is the second most important choke point for the transport of oil, the first being the Strait of Hormuz; yet, it is first for two thirds of internationally traded LNG (liquified natural gas).  This Strait is VITAL for Japan, Korea, AND China as so much of their energy comes via that route.  It is the shortest sea route between Persian Gulf suppliers and key Asian markets. China has astoundingly built islands from scratch from the ocean floor with facilities such as air fields and port facilities potentially to control the sea routes.

Third, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that the South China Sea holds about 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves, most of which lie along the margins of the South China Sea rather than under disputed islets and reefs.  See the map provided to see the locations of the artificially made Paracel Islands and the Spratley Islands. An old principle of real estate ownership applies here: location, location, location. How does their location impact the region’s trade?

All of this highlights how important it is to have dominant sea power located there, thanks to the dictums set down by Alfred T. Mahan so many years ago. Thus far, that sea power is in the hands of the U.S. Navy though China is enhancing their’s with the apparent goal of surpassing the U.S. Navy in that region. China is not yet committed to building a world wide high seas navy, only to have a navy to protect their interests in the South China Sea and Djibouti in the Middle East.

Artificial Islands in the South China Sea (from Wikipedia)

Actually, as the second map discloses, some claims have been solved.  It is the rest that are problematic. In 2016, a South China Sea arbitration tribunal of the Hague attempted to resolve China’s claims to resources and ruled that their claims were incompatible with the UN Convention on the Sea’s ruling of that region’s high seas open to all.    China has yet to accept the results. How that is to be resolved is still unclear.

Finally, the Strait of Malacca IS essential for China’s Belt and Road Initiative to be carried out.  Will China attempt to control it?  And, if so, what can be done about that?  China may intend to control the South China Sea; but, the Strait of Malacca is probably out of its reach for some time.  At the very least, we can expect growing tensions within the South China Sea between the various nations, especially China, laying claim to substantial portions of it. 

It is a potential flash point. What do you think can be done about their claims?

China: Quo Vadis?

Our relations with China have become increasingly complicated since Xi has acquired more power. He has instituted more of a regulatory state, BUT there has also been a significant growth in entrepreneurship. Their small businesses on the whole are doing better than what ours have experienced in the Covid-19 crisis. It is a countervailing power to Xi’s power acquisition. There is an inbuilt tension between the two.

Trump’s main interest has been in trade but that distracts from much larger trends at work. His efforts to blame China for the covid-19 breakout are unlikely to bear fruit. And, even if those efforts proved China was somehow responsible for causing the breakout were successful, the U.S. option are limited.

Xi and his ruling party are highly influenced by their perceptions of the Qing’s dynasties serious problems that led to humiliation from the U.K. Americans tend to see free trade as a positive good. China’s leadership sees free trade as hypocritically advantageous for the U.S. We think of religious freedom as a main source for stability, but the PRC sees Christianity and Islam as destabilizing. Thus, their regime suppresses both. Hong Kong appears to Americans as an economic success story, but China is reminded of British imperialism. China sees Trump’s America First as but a new version of that.

Here are several areas where China is unlikely to relent: (1) China has made an irrevocable commitment to state controlled capitalism while allowing for individual entrepreneurship. (2) China is not wedded to a coherent, universal ideology. The Communist Party of China is no longer Communist, but the Party is committed to one party rule albeit with allowance for elections at the local levels. (3) China does not have nor is it likely to have an independent judiciary let alone a free press. (4) China is not going to quit exporting technology. (5) China is not likely to give up on requiring those who build plants in China to share their technology secrets with China. (6) China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) is inextricably linked to their future though their ruling party sees that their implementation has evoked resistance and must be modified. China seeks to restore its greatness at the center of the world.

Perhaps most important of all, China’s long history and deeply imbedded extended village relationships have favored the collective over the individual. China has no experience with western style democracy in its own governance nor is it likely to. The issue really has been more how authoritarian will its government be. It has learned from the horrid excesses imposed by Mao that Xi is just not going to be a mass murderer. Strong centralized control, yes, but murderous on a large scale, no. Concentration camps for the Muslims in its West, yes, but mass murder no.

China has been remarkably stable since Deng’s reforms of 40 years ago, the longest period of stability in China’s modern life. The model he put in place has stood the test of time, but it will not lead to democracy any time soon. Those who want to see China today as simply a warmed-over version of Mao’s totalitarian, murderous regime are mistaken.

But, China has inbuilt issues that will be hard for it to resolve and continue to grow economically. It is aging especially thanks to the long-term deleterious effects of its previous one child policy. Its exam system to enter the best colleges is so strict and jobs so insufficient for those who pass them that it has yet to resolve this disconnect. Its BRI has engendered legitimate complaints of being too overbearing in imposing debts upon its recipients. For this initiative to achieve a genuine win/win status, China must adapt. The U.S. by itself is unable to take much advantage of these issues.


During the 1918-1919 “Spanish flu” pandemic, neither the federal government or the states took any action and were not expected to so any closings were left to local municipalities. So, here are several examples of actions taken by local municipalities followed by a general conclusion. At the peak of the Pandemic church services were banned in D.C. as part of a ban on all public gatherings on Oct. 3, 1918. The DC Protestant churches called an emergency meeting on Oct. 5 and agreed unanimously to abide by the ban. The African American churches also agreed unanimously to abide by it.
Some tried to get a workaround approved for outdoor meetings but those too were banned.
Once the numbers of deaths began to decline by Oct. 28 pressure began to stop the ban. The ban was lifted on Oct. 31.
During the pandemic, restrictions on public gatherings affected churches. In Washington, D.C., a group of Protestant ministers “voted unanimously to accede to the request of the District Commissioners that churches be closed in the city.” Churches were also closed in cities such as Dallas, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Seattle, yet remained open in Chicago and San Francisco. Where there were church closings, there were only a few instances of disobedience. A Baptist pastor in Murray, Kentucky, held services on January 26, 1919 in violation of the state’s ban and was arrested in his pulpit at the evening service. A Catholic priest in St. Louis was allegedly turned in to police after 200 parishioners were seen at the church. The priest told police the people snuck in through the church’s side windows, and he didn’t see them. No charges were pressed. Lessons Learned from the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
Very different policies were pursued by the two cities. Despite St. Paul’s principle health official’s conviction that the closing of public places would be ineffective, on November 6 St. Paul’s government officials overruled him and enacted a closing order for the whole city, including schools, theaters, churches, and dance halls. The St. Paul Citizens’ Committee—consisting of 15 physicians, church leaders, and community members who were appointed by St. Paul’s main health official, Dr. Simon—was concerned by the record of 218 new cases on November 5, as well as 36 deaths between November 4 and November 5, 1918, so they recommended this policy change (Figure 1). The number of new cases began to decline 10 days later, with only 24 new cases, and the next day, Dr. Simon reopened St. Paul businesses and churches. While the churches were closed, there were no significant protests from church leaders about the closings.
Minneapolis closed its schools on two separate occasions but not all public places.
When the flu epidemic hit Omaha one of its first fatalities in the City of Omaha, the Rev. Siefke S. de Freese, the 35-year-old pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, had died suddenly after coming down with the Spanish flu symptoms — just days after conducting services and interacting with hundreds of parishioners. At least 25 other Omaha residents were sick with flu.
The city’s health commissioner, Dr. E.T. Manning, knew he had a problem. A big one. After weeks of afflicting East Coast cities, the Spanish flu pandemic had reached Nebraska.
Within 24 hours, Manning issued a sweeping order closing churches, schools, movie houses and theaters, and shutting down public events. He banned spitting in public, and urged people who felt sick to self-isolate. He told people to stop kissing. People who did venture out wore surgical masks.
“Prohibition of public gatherings is the only way known to medical science to check the spread of disease, and I believe we are justified in ordering that to prevent a more serious situation,” Manning said, according to a report in The World-Herald. “I would rather be blamed for being overcautious than to be responsible for a single death.”
Manning’s quick action was credited with saving many lives over the next three months. But Omaha still suffered. Before the end of the year, at least 974 people died in the city of about 180,000 residents, and 14,000 became ill — though both numbers are believed to greatly underestimate the scope of the disease.
The Spanish flu remains the worst natural disaster in Omaha’s history.
The churches complied with the ban until the crisis had passed.

Conclusion: banning worship services was not regarded as some form of religious persecution. It was questioned by churches once the death rates began to go down significantly. Churches complied with few exceptions so public enforcement was not a major issue. It appears that very few, if any, saw the bans as an infringement on their 1st Amendment rights.
So, a good question would be why has that turned into more of an issue in this pandemic over a century later? That’s a topic for another time to deal with.

A Backwards View of Presidential Approval Ratings in Times of Crisis

Recently in various news sources, it was reported that President Trump had experienced an increase in his presidential approval ratings due to his perceived handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic. How does this compare with presidential approval ratings in times of crisis in our past?

A fair comparison is not easy to arrive at given the increased partisanship the U.S. has experienced especially within the past five years. See Pew Research’s new study on how the gap has widened. Plus, the science of poll taking has evolved considerably over time. Still, for what it may be worth, let’s look at how public opinion responded to presidential handling of crises starting with Truman.

TRUMAN: His popularity went down quite a bit from its height of over 80% after entering office to the dumps by 1947 in the mid to lower 40% range. There was considerable reaction against him during that time leading to major GOP gains in the 1946 Congressional elections. But, as the Cold War heated up, his popularity went from a nadir of around 38% after the 1946 elections to over 60% approval with the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine designed to rescue Europe. However, it soon began to decline again to where it looked like he could not possibly be elected in 1948. That was one of the greatest political upsets in our history and led to another spike of support in 1949 of over 60% with the creation of NATO and victory in keeping the Soviets from grabbing West Berlin.

His support steadily declined after that as China went Communist, McCarthyism raised its ugly head and the Korean War turned into a stalemate. His firing of MacArthur sealed his fate politically though he could have run again. He left office with the lowest public approval ratings on record around 24%, just slightly below George W. Bush’s. He also holds the modern record for the lowest overall average of popular support for his term in office at 45.4%.

So, yes, it is true that in popular opinion spiked in the crises that Truman faced.

IKE: His approval ratings are among the most consistently best of any modern President. He never went below 50% and most of the time he was at or slightly above 60%. His overall average was a stunning 65%. His approval ratings spiked to their highest of about 80% from about 70% when he took decisive action during the Little Rock controversy and soon thereafter with his response to Sputnik to call for many to become scientists and mathematicians. They sank to their lowest of close to 50% when his Chief of Staff Adams had to resign due to a major scandal in 1958, but rose after that.

Since Ike didn’t face any major crisis sufficient to impact his approval ratings, we don’t have much to work with here. We LIKED Ike.

JFK: His approval ratings were the highest of any Presidency for his time in office of an average of 70%! He received a spike of approval in response to his standing firm in response to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Went down at first as a result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco but rose quickly to 83% with his forthright apology for that debacle placing the blame squarely on himself, and rose again with the Cuban missile crisis, declined after that as the Civil Rights issues heated up but spiked up with his response to the March on Washington with his major address on race—the first President to make a strong stance publicly in favor of civil rights.
So, in his case, he also gained support in response to crises, but not in large amounts in large part since his approval ratings rarely dipped much below 60%.

LBJ: He received a huge outpouring of support for how he handled himself after JFK’s murder and that lasted for months at over 80%, but then went down and down and down as a result of the escalation of the Vietnam War. His only spike of support oddly enough came after he announced he wasn’t going to run for re-election. He rarely got as much of 50% support by mid to late 1967 and after. Overall average amounts to 55.1%.

So, yes, he got a huge spike early, but….

NIXON: One might be surprised to find that overall his approval ratings stayed in the above 50% to a bit over 60% for much of his presidency until, you guessed it, Watergate. At first, he gained support even going over 60% in early 1973 but it then collapsed leaving an overall average of 49%. So, no, he didn’t have any significant spikes upward or downward in approval ratings until Watergate.

FORD: It seems unfair to discuss this topic with Ford as he came into office in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. He had good support at first but his controversial pardon (a wise and brave decision) cost him dearly. The fall of Saigon in 1975 was his nadir in support at below 40%, but he saw a significant rise in support after that as his wife Betty Ford came forward on 60 minutes to speak candidly on several topics such as her alcoholism, issues with marijuana and in favor of pro choice in abortion. Ford helped himself by calling for reduced taxes. So, his approval went from below 40% to over 58% before it began to slide downwards leading to his defeat to Carter. He holds the third worst overall support record since WWII of 47.2%

CARTER: He gained significant support as he negotiated lasting peace between Egypt and Israel but saw his popularity decline steadily to the 40% range with a mild spike up to the mid 50s with his efforts to negotiate arms limitations with the Soviets though never ratified, rose to 61% by taking in the Shah of Iran but then his “malaise” speech sealed his political demise along with mishandling the Iran hostage situation.

So, yes, good support for his peace efforts and for showing humanitarian concern for the seriously ill Shah. His overall average of 45.5% approval is just higher than Truman’s for second worst since WWII.

REAGAN: He began with only 51% but gained significant empathetic support as a result of nearly being killed with approval ratings rising to 68% but then the Rust Belt rusted away to a major crisis taking down his approval ratings to the 40% range but those steadily and strongly improved with his handling of major issues such as invading Grenada after which his ratings hovered around the 60% range until Iran contra hit the news bringing his approval ratings down in the lower 40% range. He recouped his support quickly though with going public with a heartfelt apology in March of 1987 for Iran Contra and gained more support with his superb discussions with Gorbachev leading to an Intermediate Missile Reduction Treaty.

So, yes, his approval ratings went up strongly not once but twice in response to serious crises. His overall average stands at 52.8% and that was lowered by the length of the recession.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He is a strong case for gaining very strong approval for a crisis with his handling of Saddam’s grab of Kuwait where his support quickly soared from around 57% to an incredible high of 89% within little over a month’s time Amazing support but that soon dissipated to about 29%, a loss of 60%!!! as a result of a recession and other issues. It was “the economy, stupid” that did him in along with his breaking his election campaign promise to “read my lips” about no new taxes. Still, his overall average approval stands at 60.9%.


BILL CLINTON: His popularity declined quickly in the midst of 1993 with the perceived mishandling of Waco to a bit below 40% to see it quickly rise to near 60% with his Oslo I accords between the PLO and Israel. They declined soon thereafter back into the 40% range with Mogadishu but rose steadily after that with the start towards welfare reform and helping facilitate a lasting peace between Israel and Jordan. Still, he will only win with 49% of the vote in 1996. After that, his approval range improved to the 60% range and while scandal after scandal emerged none hurt his approval ratings much.

The public felt he had done so well at a variety of things such as helping bring lasting peace in Northern Ireland, getting NAFTA approved, having budget surpluses, and more that the scandals just didn’t make much of a difference. Impeachment actually improved his support to as high as 62-3%. And, he stayed in the 60% range for the rest of his Presidency. His overall average was 55.1%. His will be the first Presidential administration where there will be virtually unrelenting Congressional partisan efforts to find scandals to harm the presidency.
So, in his case, his approval ratings did go up in crises even in the midst of scandals.

Starting with his Presidency, the partisan divide has sharply increased. The main reasons would be: (1) the creation of Fox News which was designed to go after the “main steam media” for purveying fake news and intending to bring Clinton down; (2) the growing impact of Prot evangelicals siding with the GOP thus a tendency to see the “other” as somehow evil; (3) the rampant impact of gerrymandering making the real elections be the primaries thus bringing more “true believers” to Congress from both parties with little inclination to compromise; and, (4) the successful efforts made by folks like Gingrich, Falwell and Schafly to use wedge issues like abortion and gun control to divide the public more so as to enable the GOP to have a better chance to win elections. Clinton’s average support from Dems was 80% and from Reps at 27 for a whopping 53% differential.

W: The partisan divide continued here with an average GOP support for W. at 81% and Dem at 23% for a differential of 58%. W. started out with decent support at around 60% but then took the sharpest increase in the history of Polls due to his handling of 9/11 to close to 90% within less than a month. That declined to his starting point of around 60% by the start of 2003 and then spiked about 10% with his surge. But, that gain was soon wiped out by the chaos in Iraq and it was a steady downhill movement from there to where he wound up with the second worst public approval rating of around 25%.

Like his Dad, he had a spectacular outpouring of support in a very short time but lost it. By and large, however, he was spared unrelenting efforts by his political opposition to find scandals to harm his presidency.

OBAMA: He had entered office hoping to help heal the partisan divide. However, he was never given a chance to do it. On the very evening of his first inaugural, the GOP leaders met to decide to do all they could to make sure he was unsuccessful and thus be a one term President. They were aided by the birther movement and Obama is a Muslim craze both designed to delegitimize him as NOT BEING a “real” American.

Though he had inherited huge crises, the GOP was not about to work with him so one doesn’t see any significant spikes upward in his approval ratings except for taking down Bin Laden which gained him a quickly evaporated 7% gain. He will wind up with an average approval rating of 47% though he started at around 60 and left office at that rate. He was much more popular overseas as in Europe than here.

One can’t help but compare his situation with the aftermath of the bitterly contested 2000 election. Gore and the Dems conceded reasonably gracefully and did NOT band together to make W. unsuccessful. The 2008 election stands out as the first Presidential election since 1860 where the losers refused to accept the results. There were many, many GOP inspired Congressional hearings designed to harm Obama’s presidency. Now, the Dems have been copycats with Trump. Some feel they’ve gone too fur.

TRUMP: His average support to date has been 40%, the lowest on record. Recently, it grew to 49 % for finally taking charge of the Covid-19 outbreak. His low was 35% which he has hit several times. His partisan divide is even worse than Obama’s with average GOP support at 84% while average Dem support has been 16% for a differential of a staggering 67%. Now, contrary to the GOP on the evening of Obama’s first inaugural, the Dems did not agree to do all they could to make him unsuccessful. Indeed, there have been a number of bipartisan bills of quite some import passed.

On the other hand, the Dems pushed for impeachment without making sure they had bipartisan support. Same mistake the GOP made with Clinton but while that cost the GOP electorally that has not happened with the Dems. The Dems did not lose significant support though many pundits were sure they would.


With the growing partisan divide, it is unlikely that Trump or any President will experience the kind of sharp outpourings of support that several previous Presidents received during times of crisis. This does not augur well for our future. Trump made much of his popularity increase, but it was small by comparison of the even spectacular gains made by several presidents earlier.

How Previous Presidents Handled Pandemics

Our nation’s expectations of how well Presidents should handle epidemics and pandemics has increased over time.

1. Wilson and the flu pandemic of 1918-9. Wilson was so tied up first with the war and then with post war negotiations centered around the eventual Versailles Treaty and League of Nations that few expected him to do much about this flu pandemic. He himself contracted the flu while at Versailles but recovered. There were no federal policies at all at that time related to the flu pandemic. His only action, at the behest of his generals, was to stop troop transfers to and from Europe for a while to help contain the spread of the virus.
America felt it was on the cutting edge of dealing with issues like typhus and yellow fever; and, it was. But, the President was not expected to have any significant role in these matters.

2. Ike and polio This was a major issue at the time, but the President was again not expected to play much of a role. The development and distribution of the Salk vaccine in 1954 completely changed the nature of this terrible scourge. Ike’s appointed head of the brand new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was Olveta Culp Hobby and it was she who made the crucial decision to make Salk’s vaccine widely distributed.
I recall, and I imagine many of you reading this, also remember standing in line to receive the vaccination. In my case, I was in junior high and stood in line in our gymnasium to get it.

Hobby was forced to resign soon after her decision due to criticisms of not putting in place strong enough safety measures.

These days that would surely be a major scandal, but it wasn’t at the time. Her reputation soon recovered enough for Ike to ask her to consider running for President in 1960.
Now, there’s a what if!

3. Gerald Ford and the Spanish flu epidemic that never happened. I honestly didn’t remember this at all. Gerald Ford and the swine flu pandemic that never happened in 1976 is a reminder that government action can backfire. Ford became worried of reports that a severe flu outbreak had happened at Fort Dix among military recruits. So, he promptly put in place a vaccination protocol to nip it in the blood or face a reemergence of the 1918 Spanish flu. Around 40 million were vaccinated, BUT it was not necessary as the flu that was present turned out not to be fatal. Worse, around 500 had the nasty side effects of Guillian-Barre syndrome of whom thirty died.

But, this debacle paled in comparison to the impact of his courageous pardon of Richard Nixon and, worse, his statement in a debate with Carter claiming that Poland was not under Soviet domination really hurt him. I recall watching that.

4. It really wasn’t until Ronald Reagan was first elected that a President was seriously expected to deal with a pandemic, in this case, HIV/AIDS. He and his aides were severely criticized for a tardy response to that crisis. But, one must recall that their views accurately reflected the moral views of social conservatives especially including evangelicals as a significant part of his base that this pandemic was a just consequence of improper behaviors.

5. It is VERY IMPORTANT NOW to correct a common misperception about President Reagan that he was utterly opposed to homosexuality and was willing to just let HIV/AIDS victims die.

In 1978, a right wing state legislator in Reagan’s home state of California, John Briggs, pushed for a state ballot initiative named Proposition 6 to bar gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools sure that Reagan would support him and publicly pressed him to do so. And, Reagan’s own political handlers urged him to stay away from this issue.
But, in September, he told reporters and with a following op ed that he was opposed to this Proposition as it would do “real mischief”, and the Proposition lost by a wide margin.
He had gay friends, such as Rock Hudson.

While he was very reluctant as President to take any public stand on HIV/AIDS for the first part of his Presidency, he did so clearly and unequivocally at a response to a question in a press conference in September 1985. On Feb. 5, 1986, he made a surprise visit to the Department of Health and Human Services where he said, “One of our highest public health priorities is going to be continuing to find a cure for AIDS.” He also announced that he’d tasked Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to prepare a major report on the disease. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Reagan dragged Koop into AIDS policy, not the other way around. He followed up with a major address in 1987 supporting efforts to combat AIDS. He got support from Congress for financing this battle from 8$ million in 1981 to $26.5 in 1983 soon increased by Congress to $44 million and doubled that in 1984.

6. With the President’s support, it was his Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who came to the fore to speak out strongly about the need to aid those suffering from this dread disease. His cause was helped when it became apparent that there were those contracting this disease unawares. Koop strongly advocated for the necessity of sex education in the schools to teach about using condoms to protect them contracting this disease. Needless to say, that opened him up to public criticism from those conservative activists who had backed him for being appointed to his post. But, those criticisms soon faded and he has come to be regarded by many as the gold standard for what a surgeon general should do to educate the public.

7. Sadly, probably no case ever equaled in public impact in favor of empathy for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS than the sad, sad case of what happened to tennis great Arthur Ashe. Ashe had found out he contracted the disease while having a blood transfusion during heart surgery in 1988. He kept that a secret for three and a half years until he found out that his secret was going to be revealed to the public. He eventually died of pneumonia brought on as a complication of having that disease.

8. I know this is a bit of a diversion from our topic, but I feel President George H.W. Bush deserves great credit for advocating for the U.S. becoming an ADA environment which is generally regarded as the last major piece of civil rights legislation. Having traveled extensively, we are the gold standard in this field. THANK YOU President George H.W. Bush!!

9. Now we come to one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, humanitarian Presidents ever in terms of saving lives from potentially fatal diseases—George W. Bush. For details please see: The March 19, 2020 issue of The African Exponent’s article–
George W. Bush’s Initiative To Fight The HIV/AIDS Epidemic Has Saved Millions of Lives in Africa.

Since being launched in 2003, the global initiative against HIV/AIDS, PEPFAR, has achieved remarkable success, and has been hailed as the biggest single disease global health initiative in history.

And, the article is correct. I know, I know, he and his administration came under great criticism for their conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with subsequent humanitarian disasters. But, NOTHING should take away from this initiative of his. PLEASE read this article. It notes the quite different actions of Obama vis a vis Trump in continuing W’s work.

For Obama and Bush together in Africa see:

10. We now come to President Obama, the second great humanitarian of our Presidents. Given that his handling of the H1N1 crisis has been so heavily politicized and littered with false accusations, here’s the CDC’s official timeline of the H1N1 crisis:

A good rule of thumb to aid you would be that if you see stories that say he didn’t act until it was very late in the game with a declaration of National Emergency in October of 2009 that strongly suggests that those are partisan political attacks. Just consult the actual record as reported by the CDC and you’ll see he acted much sooner than that. When one considers that the eventual fatality rate was at 0.02% that was significantly lower than was expected. Let’s hope we do that well now, though projections right now are at around 1% which would bring a significantly higher fatality rate.

Let’s take a look at how Obama brought the spread of Ebola to a halt in West Africa. We know that well from our friends in Sierra Leone. Naturally, he faced nasty partisan attacks for his efforts here, but he stayed the course. Again, please consult the CDC timeline. It was President Obama who made the decision to have CDC coordinate the efforts to stop Ebola and it involved sending 3,500 medical personnel to the region to vastly improve their health system’s abilities to deal with this deadly disease:

11. It is early for a historian to say much about President Trump as his first term has not yet come to an end.  Still, the record shows that President Trump was consistent from the start of the coronavirus19 outbreak of minimizing the nature of the coronavirus crisis while stating that we were well prepared and/or it was under control, when in fact we weren’t well prepared nor was it under control. He frequently contradicted what was being said by his own health care professionals. He has recently changed his tune but has denied that he ever minimized the crisis let alone was contradicted by his own health care professionals though the recorded record is clear that he did and they did.

This timeline has been updated on March 17 to reflect his change in message. He has also made repeated false claims about Obama’s handling of the H1N1 crisis in order to deflect from his own culpability in this crisis. Until he changed, it appeared that he had been more willing to listen to Fox commentators like Hannity and radio personality Limbaugh than to his own health care professionals. Unhappily, he still goes public with disinformation but likely believes it.  This is balanced by how much he relies on a health care professional to provide sound medical advice publicly.

The latter good practice provides a good transition for, despite the issues noted above, the fact that he has made several verifiable good decisions such as early on ordering a ban of Chinese nationals coming to the U.S., ordering a national emergency later, and, ordering restrictions on those coming to the U.S. from Europe.  We must give credit where credit is due and not focus only on his shortcomings.

There has been a surge in public support for him recently which is fairly common early on for Presidents dealing with major crises. That support can have a short shelf life depending on how well the public perceives he is handling it.  Let’s see how this plays out.  As a nation, we need him to do well.


Watching videos of a torchlight parade including Nazi salutes and shouted Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” brings chills to anyone who knows the history of Nazi Germany. . Yes, there can be no moral equivalency to this. All Americans need to do all they can peacefully to reject this hatred.

During the next day, most of those who came to be counter protestors followed this principle by peacefully protesting against the neo-Nazis, KKK, and white nationalists who had gathered at the University of Virginia. And some got the daylights beaten out of them, particularly one in a certain parking garage that I watched being interviewed afterwards.

However, a significant portion of The Antifa was NOT there to peaceably assemble. That cohort came with clubs and other weapons to confront the anti-Semitic crowd which included folks with their own weapons. And, therein lies the great danger of what happened at Charlottesville.

Condoning violence utilized by a faction of Antifa will almost certainly galvanize more support for the political right and will drive away moderates. Trump’s base will feel they have good justification for believing they have been marginalized by those lefties. Folks who are so intolerant of intolerance that they will resort to violence to defeat intolerance should not be attractive to anyone on the left.

You who support such actions in any way must be warned that a major factor bringing fascism to power in the 30s was the actual danger of radical leftists gathering to carry out street fights with the Nazis and their supporters. Most Germans then were not attracted to such a movement. The Nazis promised law and order and that appealed to most or at least gained their willingness to “not get involved”.

If you’re worried about some American style of authoritarianism rising to power, a virtually guaranteed way to make sure that takes place would be to support in any way those who are willing to use any method, including violence, to oppose the neo-Nazis, KKK and white nationalists. ONLY peaceful non-violent protest in intent and in practice can successfully appeal to the better angels of our nature as Americans.

What’s my takeaway here? We should KNOW that from the successes of the Civil Rights movement. Those lessons ought to be applied now as well. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it so well in his Beyond Good and Evil: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster.”

Question for you: To what extent do you agree with this and why or why not?

What Did Pershing Really Do in the Philippines?

President Trump recently told a story about Pershing’s involvement in the Philippines. To understand the story, it is important to know why Brigadier General Pershing was in the Philippines in the first place.

He had to deal with the consequences of perceived broken American promises at the end of the Spanish-American War. Based on what they regarded as American commitments, the Filipinos and Moros (a Muslim ethnic group in the southern Philippine islands) expected the U.S. to grant independence to the Filipinos and preserve the autonomy of the Moros. But, President William McKinley and the U.S. Congress approved an Annexation of the Philippines over the objections of a considerable anti-imperialist movement in the U.S. (see Mark Twain’s classic satirical essay: “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”).

Annexation resulted in a Filipino Insurrection for independence and a Moro Rebellion initially for autonomy. The U.S. Army was sent to put these down. Pershing played a role in accomplishing an end to the Moro Rebellion.

However, his preferred M.O. was the exact opposite of the st ory told by President Trump. He attempted whenever feasible to negotiate. Indeed, his military Governorship of the Moro region from 1909-13 put in place a healthy list of lasting positive reforms including a transition from a military to a civilian government.

During his governorship, it is true that the Army continued its practice of burying each Moro rebel who had been killed in battle in pig skin to encourage the Muslims to put down their weapons. This policy helped stop the rebellion, but the greater credit should go to Brigadier General John J. Pershing who carried out his already stated policies along with a carefully constructed plan to disarm the rebels with a minimum of bloodshed.

The U.S. Army did not shoot unarmed prisoners of war to carry out Pershing’s successful policies and plan.

What is a takeaway to this recorded history? The U.S. willfully participated in the late 19th Century binge of imperialism already being indulged in by the European powers (an example would be the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 regarding dividing up Africa). Not surprisingly, the Person Sitting in Darkness in the Philippines was not going to cooperate. Their efforts to achieve independence for one group and autonomy for the other would not be successful.

I look forward to your comments!

Are We Ready for a Woman President?

Inside an ice sculpture in Joensu, Finnland
Inside an ice sculpture in Joensu, Finnland

I was in Joensuu, Finland as the primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was in full swing. Finland is considered the most “American” nation in Europe, and Finns were wondering whether the U.S. was ready to elect a woman President.

No one was asking about a black President, but the civil rights struggles of blacks and women are very interconnected. In 1870, we were forced to choose between them, and women’s rights came in second. Fifty years elapsed between the Fifteenth and Ninteenth Amendments, so women got the right to vote a long time after black men.

We were at a political crossroads eight years ago. The question I asked then was, “If Obama becomes President, will it be another half century before we have a woman President. We’re at another political crossroads. Here’s the background I recorded in Finland.