The Dirty Dozen: Top 13 Barrier Walls in History

One of America’s greatest political minds, Benjamin Franklin, wrote, “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” It would seem today that the notion of a hedge against our neighbors is not a lost thought. As rhetoric becomes more bellicose regarding a robust wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, FTKC looks back of some of the most famous or significant walls throughout history. For this list we will be looking at physical barrier walls–either of mud, wood, stone, wire fence, concrete, or a combination of these–that were used for defensive or restrictive purposes. Because of this, Hitler’s Atlantic Wall or France’s Maginot Line do not make the list as they are not true walls in the sense of the word. We’ll leave off the U.S./Mexico border since it inspires this list. And, sorry Pink Floyd you don’t make the cut, either.

#13 Frontier Closed Area (Hong Kong)


Built in 1951 at the height of Cold War tensions during the Korean War, the Frontier Closed Area now straddles two of the largest metropolises in the world–Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Established as a buffer zone between communist China and colonial Hong Kong, the Frontier Closed Area was an U.N. embargo tool against China’s actions in Korea and was designed to keep out illegal immigrants, smugglers, and spies. Now, with Hong Kong part of China again, it is a 10 square mile relic of wetlands and isolated hamlets; a swath of untouched green earth in a concrete and metal urban sprawl. Slowly, the government of Hong Kong is opening the Frontier Closed Area to limited development, finally reintegrating Hong Kong into mainland China.

#12 Great Wall of Gorgan (Iran)


Also known as the “Red Snake” because of the red clay bricks used in its construction, the Great Wall of Gorgan is the second longest defensive wall in history and at least a 1000 years older than the Great Wall of China. Though the time of its construction is not well known, recent work by archaeologists in Iran and from the Universities of Edinburgh and Durham believe the Great Wall of Gorgan to have been construction in the 5th, or possibly 6th, century CE by the Sasanian Persians to keep out the White Huns invading from Central Asia. The wall is a complex collection of over 30 military forts that housed 30,000 troops and aqueducts and other water channels stretching from the Caspian Sea over 120 miles inland.

#11 Servian Walls (Rome, Italy)


Every major city in antiquity was surrounded by walls. Lugo, Spain has probably the best preserved Roman walls in western Europe and they are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But, they are in Lugo, Spain. What sets our #11 pick apart from these other walled cities is the city that the walls protected: Rome–the city at the heart of one of history’s most significant empires. Constructed in the early 4th century BCE of tufa, a type of volcanic rock, the walls were enough of a deterrent that they repelled an attack of Rome by Hannibal after he famously crossed the Alps with elephants during the Second Punic War. Eventually, Romans would outgrow the walls; they spread their city well beyond its security under the ever-present protection of the mighty Roman military and the Pax Romana.

#10 The Green line (Cyprus)


It is hard to imagine an island the size of Cyprus being nearly cut in two, but it is a reality for Greek Cypriots on the southern side and Turkish Cypriots in the north. Following Cyprus’ independence from Britain in 1960, tensions between the two communities festered. This animosity culminated when a 1974 coup by Greek National Guards, who favored a union with Greece, was met with troops supported by Turkey. The northern and southern lines of this 110 mile long scar across Cyprus are the lines where the belligerents stood in the ceasefire of 1974. Now patrolled by the U.N., the Green line has become a greenbelt of nature in a quickly modernizing nation. It is also known as the Nicosia line because it cuts through the center of the city of Nicosia where “new” cars from the 1970’s sit derelict in a car dealership garage.

#9 Great Wall of Tlaxcala (Mexico)


What do you do when your neighbors are fierce warriors who take captives to become human sacrifices at their temples? You build a wall. And you make it big. That’s exactly what the Tlaxcalan people of Mexico did. Though both the Tlaxcalan and Mexica people belonged to the Aztec culture, they were, at heart, bitter enemies. For over 200 years, the Tlaxcalan people lived in the shadows of the Aztec empire. By 1325, the Mexica had formed a powerful army and began subduing their neighbors. Expect for the Tlaxcalans. To help resist their hostile neighbors, the Tlaxcalans encircled their empire in a wall. By 1519, when Cortez arrives in Mexico, the Tlaxcalans were a completely isolated enclave deep in the heart of Aztec land. Cortez remarked that the walls surrounding Tlaxcalan territory were “about one and a half times the height of a man,” twenty paces wide, and stretched beyond what the eye could see. Unfortunately, the walls were no match for Cortez.

#8 Hadrian’s Wall (Scotland)


The second Roman wall to make our list, Hadrian’s Wall is the longest wall in Europe stretching across England from the River Tyne on the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. Built by Emperor Hadrian in 122 CE, the wall’s 73 mile length represented the furthest north boundary of the Roman Empire. Boundless theory’s exist as to why Hadrian constructed the wall but the most common idea is that the wall represented Roman power (it is thought the wall was covered in plaster and whitewashed so it would radiate in the sun) and Hadrian’s personal desire of defense of the empire rather than expansion of it. Another possibility was that it was a tax collecting and anti-immigration/smuggling tool: As people traveled across England they’d pass through the wall and pay tribute to the Roman empire, and the closely built towers could keep out enemies of the Empire and regulate immigration.

#7 Korean Wall/Demilitarized Zone (North/South Korea)

Imjinak South Korea DMZ

The #7 entry is one of the most famous border’s in the world because it is the demarcation line between two countries technically still at war. Despite the cease-fire agreed to in 1953, soldiers on both sides of the fence wake each morning and prepare for a war that probably will not break out, but there’s always that haunting chance. And yet, less than 35 miles to the south, the bright lights of Seoul burn through the night. Despite its name, the DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the world with some 640,000 South Korean troops at the ready with 2.4 million in reserve backed by almost 30,000 American soldiers. Since 1953, over 500 South Korean soldiers and 50 American have died along the 160 mile long, 2.5 miles wide fortified border. In 1977, the DPRK claimed that South Korea and the U.S. had begun constructing a concrete wall along the DMZ. This claim was repeated in 1999, and both times the U.S. and South Korean denied the existence of a physical, concrete wall.

#6 Line of Control (India-Pakistan)


It would be a gross understatement to say that India’s borders are hostile places. Aside from the Line of Actual Control separating India and China and the Indian/Bangladesh border, the contentious border between India and Pakistan in the former princely states of Jammu and Kashmir were considered by Bill Clinton to be the most dangerous border in the world. In 2003, India began constructing a 340 mile long fence along 460 miles of the disputed Line of Control established in 1972. It was built by the Indian government to prevent smuggling of arms, insurgents and terrorists across the border into disputed Indian territory. There are enough spotlights and floodlights illuminating the line that it is the only man-made border that can be seen from space. Since conflict began along the border in 1947, an estimated 100,000 people have died in the Kashmir region alone. Today, the border is an ever-present cause for the escalation of military power. Pakistan, with the world’s 7th largest military, recently announced that they had developed a miniature nuclear warhead designed to destroy tanks and even has identified targets across the disputed border in India ramping up tension in a region that is a tempest already.

#5 Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey)


Protecting one of the greatest cities in all of history are two walls–Wall of Constantine and Theodosian Walls–that combine to make up the formidable Walls of Constantinople. Constantinople stood at the epicenter of the world in the 7th century CE. It served as the bridge between Asia and Europe; traders from three continents converged on its markets. And behind its massive walls–which withstood over 15 different sieges over a millennium–Constantinople thrived. Far from a deterrent, the Walls of Constantinople lured invaders in with a song of wealth and power. Probably the most significant stand by Constantinople came in 674-677, and again in 717-718, when Arab armies marched northward after conquering much of the Byzantine empire and all of Persia. Both times Constantinople stood fast. The walls kept in check the spread of Islam into a fractured and chaotic Europe. One can only imagine the outcome for Europe had Constantinople fallen.

#4 Belfast Peace Line (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


Meant to separate predominantly Catholic–self-identifying Irish–and Protestant–self-identifying Unionist/British–neighborhoods, the Irish Peace Lines of Belfast,  Ireland stand as a legacy to mutual mistrust and loathing. The first walls went up in 1969 shortly after “the Troubles” when British soldiers were sent in to Belfast and uncoiled barbed wire to separate the warring factions. The commander in charge, Lt. Gen. Ian Freeland, said, “The peace lines will be a very, very temporary affair. We will not have a Berlin Wall or anything like that in this city.” Nearly 50 years later, the walls not only remain, but get taller, longer, and new ones are built, as recently as 2008. Despite calls for the walls to come down, nearly 70% of people living near them fear for their safety should they come down and 58% do not believe the police can contain the violence that may occur should the walls go away. None the less, plans are in the works to see the walls torn down by 2023.

#3 Israeli West Bank Barrier (Israel)


Begun in 2002 during the height of the Second Intifada and costing Israel an average of $260 million per year in maintenance, the Israeli West Bank Barrier is as controversial as it is massive. For Israelis, the wall is a security measure; when completed it will represent 430 miles of razor wire and anti-vehicle trenches, and in some places a twenty-six foot high concrete walls and massive watch towers, of anti-terrorism protection for the many Jewish settlements near the West Bank. To Palestinians living in the West Bank, the wall is seen as a political tool for Israel to encroach into Palestinian lands. Though it was to follow the Green Line–the 1967 boundary that separated Israel from the West Bank–some sections go as far as twelve miles beyond the Green Line often cutting off Palestinian villages from their farming lands. Israel argues that the wall is a necessity and that since its inception terrorism and bombings against Israel have dropped from 73 attacks between 2000-2003 (the start of construction) to 12 from 2003-2006.

#2 Berlin Wall (Germany)


The Berlin Wall was the physical manifestation of Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain. Original plans for a wall were rejected by Moscow in 1953, but as defections to the West increased to over 1,000 per day by the summer of 1961, Khrushchev relented. Erected 1961, the East German government claimed that the “Antifascist Bulwark” was not to keep East Berliners in, but to keep West Germans and their fascists, spies and otherwise treasonous people out. The wall most people know was really only one side to two walls separated by a 160 yard wide “death strip” protected by guard dog runs, minefields, and watchtowers. Despite having stood at the Berlin Wall and proclaimed his solidarity with West Berliners, John F. Kennedy was actually happy that the wall was constructed. When he heard that Khrushchev was constructing the wall, he said, “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war. This is the end of the Berlin crisis.”

Honorable Mentions

Walls of Jericho

Aurelian Walls (Rome)

Antonine Wall (Scotland)

#1 The Great Wall (China)


The Great Wall of China, in its entirety measuring over 13,000 miles, has become one of the most well known symbols of China to the rest of the world–a physical representation of China’s strength and its long history of isolation. Originally begun by Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century BCE, it was conceived as a means to prevent future incursions by barbarian nomads into Chinese lands. The more famous portions of the wall were built between the 14th and 17th centuries CE by the Ming Dynasty. The main purpose of the wall was as a deterrent to invasion, but it also served as a tool to control immigration and emigration, a means to collect duties and taxes along the Silk Road, and as a way to regulate trade within the empire. That the wall can be seen from space is a myth–even at low orbit, NASA has found that it has to be under near perfect conditions, but even then it is not clearly discernible from other objects nearby.


What do you think about this list? Feel we missed something? Leave a comment below and tell us. And be sure to follow From The Kitchen Cabinet to get more Dirty Dozen lists and other historical perspectives.

The Dirty Dozen: Ranking the Top 13 Speakers of the House of Representatives

These are the men, and woman, who had the unenviable job of trying to wrangle a horde of politicians into a body politic that could actually function. Welcome to FTKC, and today we are counting down our picks for the dirty dozen Speakers of the House. For this list we are including the men and woman who, for good or bad, used their influence and power to manage the House of Representatives. This list does not look at the personal or outside lives of these men and women… if that were the case, there’d be few, if none, to include. Those on this list are there solely based on their work within Congress.

# 13 Frederick Muhlenberg (1789-1791, 1793-1795)


No list would be complete without the first. Frederick Muhlenberg served as the first and third Speaker. His Speakership oversaw the passage of the Jay Treaty and the smooth transition of government from a Confederated States to a federal union. Two legends are also attributed to Mr. Muhlenberg. The first is the Muhlenberg Legend which says that by a vote of 42-41 with Muhlenberg casting the deciding vote German just missed becoming an official language of the United States. The second legend is that it is because of Mr. Muhlenberg that we call the President by the title “Mr. President” rather than “His Elected Majesty” as John Adams had suggested.

#12 Nancy Pelosi (2007-2011)


The first woman Speaker. The first Speaker from California. The first Italian-American Speaker. But these are not the reasons that Mrs. Pelosi makes our list. Like her or not, Mrs. Pelosi was able to draw in her rank and file party members and get things done. The first on her agenda was her 100-Hour plan, a six-day whirlwind legislative extravaganza which saw five bills make their way through the House, on to the Senate, and finally signed by President Bush (three bills died in the Senate). As Speaker, Pelosi was instrumental in organizing the Democratic caucus and pushing through President Obama’s health care plan despite not having a filibuster proof majority in the House.

#11 Thomas “Tom” Foley (1989-1995)


Nothing is certain except death and taxes. And for Tom Foley, one of those was the hallmark of his tenure as Speaker. As a part of the 1990 deficit reduction deal, Mr. Foley successfully forced President Bush to accept tax increases, and then again, when Bill Clinton was elected Foley worked with the new President to get his 1993 budget plan passed 218-216 without a single Republican vote. He went against the majority of his Democrat Party when he sided with President Clinton on ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Despite all this, by most measures, Foley ran a House that was more civil than any Speaker after him and won praise from many Republicans for his fairness.

#10 Dennis Hastert (1999-2007)


Like Pete Rose, Dennis Hastert’s legacy will be forever linked to a scandal. Namely, his indictment and conviction in a hush money cash case. But to deny either acceptance to a ranking of influential members of their respective professions is to deny their body of work. For Hastert, that body of work is lengthy befitting his nearly ten years serving as Speaker. He played a key role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, but he also worked side by side with Clinton on significant policies like New Markets Tax Credit program and Plan Colombia. He oversaw the implementation of significant Bush policies like No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, and the creation of Medicare Part D. However, Hastert will be remembered most for his use of the “majority of the majority” rule–later termed the Hastert Rule–in which only bills supported by the majority of Republicans (the party in power at the time) could come to the House floor for a vote.

#9 James Polk (1835-1839)


Jeopardy time: Presidents for $500–This is the only person to have served the Speaker of the House of Representatives and as President of the United States. Who is James K. Polk? Nicknamed “Young Hickory” because he defended every policy of President Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory), Polk’s brief four years as Speaker were filled with tumult. He led the House through the bitter battle over rechartering the Second Bank of the United States, and because of his relationship with Jackson all of Jackson’s enemies in Congress became Polk’s. Congressman John Bell, once Jackson’s ally, worked tirelessly to undermine Polk’s authority with obscure parliamentary challenges and questioning every decision Polk made. However, Polk was a shrewd tactician and knew the rules of debate like the back of his hand so he was only overruled once. So his enemies turned to the issue of slavery to cause disorder. They proposed a bill to outlaw slavery in the District of Columbia. A raucous debate ensued leading Polk to push any bills on slavery into a special committee stacked in his favor to ensure that no slavery bill would make it to the House floor.

#8 Nicholas Longworth (1925-1931)


In an ironic twist of politics, Nicholas Longworth was instrumental in both the demolition of a powerful Speaker (#4 on our list) and his stranglehold over the House, and the re-institution of those same powers. To prove his dominance over the left leaning Progressive Republicans in his House, Longworth stripped them all of their seniority, even the ones who sat as chairs of various committees. He commandeered the reins of both the Steering Committee and the Committee on Committees (the committee in each party that places members on… well, committees). He also put his own men on the Rules Committee ensuring that only bills he wanted to come to the floor would be debated. He did not completely alienate the Democrats in the House, either. He drew in the minority leader John Nance Garner and between the two of them they were able to maintain a smooth House. Plus, he’s got a House Office building named after him. Not bad.

#7 Tip O’Neill (1977-1987)


Tip O’Neill was one of the last old-fashioned, staunch liberals that even many of his peers tried to steer away from resembling, and he relished every moment of it. He battled Democrats and Republicans alike especially Presidents Carter and Reagan who each waged a personal war against the entrenched political insiders and they considered O’Neill the penultimate insider. O’Neill believed in rewarding Democrats for party loyalty while Carter tried to reduce government spending. Reagan and O’Neill differed on their opinions about government: Reagan saying that government was the problem that prevented economic and social growth while O’Neill believed that government was the solution to all social problems. O’Neill used his power to name committee members to his advantage in numerous House votes. Once, when 44 Democrats voted against the party O’Neill wrote each and every one of them reminding them that he was “extremely disappointed” with them and that “disciplinary measures” were in consideration. One of O’Neill’s greatest achievements as Speaker was his role in the peace process of Northern Ireland from 1977-1985.

#6 Champ Clark (1911-1919)


It is not often that a speech given by the Speaker of the House can influence the election in a foreign nation, but one given by Champ Clark did just that for Canada. In 1911, regarding a reciprocity treaty with Canada, Clark told the House that he looked “forward to the time when the American flag will fly over every square foot of British North America up to the North Pole.” The Canadian Conservative Party, who opposed the treaty, used Clark’s imperialism in their favor and handily won the election. As Democratic leader–prior to his Speakership–Clark was instrumental in leading a revolt against Speaker Joseph Cannon by manipulating the rifts forming in the Republican Party. As Speaker, Clark restored a responsible and responsive role of the Speaker. He used his power to muster Democrats against William H. Taft’s policies and in support of Woodrow Wilson’s. However, Clark did fight against President Wilson on two fronts: The Federal Reserve Bank and the entrance of the United States into World War I.

#5 John William McCormack (1962-1971)


Nicknamed “The Archbishop”, John William McCormack was, according to a January 1962 Time magazine article, “the other man from Massachusetts.” McCormack shared more than just location in common with John F. Kennedy. They were both Catholic firsts–President and Speaker. His nine years as Speaker found him overseeing the Great Society Congress where he championed civil rights legislation, voting rights, and much of Lyndon Johnson’s social programs. His one vice, his unequivocal support for the Vietnam War. His term as Speaker was often marred by rancorous, young members of his own party who demanded better committee positions and felt that power in the party was concentrated in the hands of a few old white guys.

#4 Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903-1911)


If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try again. For Joseph Cannon, the fourth time at becoming Speaker of the House was a charm. Cannon saw himself as the protector of the intent of the Constitution which meant he needed to lead the House to check the powers of the Executive. In order to do this, “Uncle Joe”, as Cannon was called, used the enormous powers that had accumulated in the Speaker’s position during the 1890s to block Theodore Roosevelt at every turn despite both being Republicans. At his disposal were committees packed with old school Conservatives loyal to him and he blocked bills that he didn’t like from being voted on. And he didn’t like a lot of what the Progressive Republicans had to offer. He didn’t care about tainted food or child welfare, taking down monopolies or the men who controlled them, the banks or even nature. “Not one cent for scenery,” Cannon chided over a bill for forestry. True to the definition of “conservative” Uncle Joe detested changed. “I am goddamned tired of listening to all this babble for reform,” he said, “America is a hell of a success.” Uncle Joe was so powerful that even the “bully pulpit”, “Big Stick” Theodore Roosevelt had to work with and around Cannon to get his Progressive Agenda passed. With his power, Cannon could have been one of the most powerful men in Congress, passing bill after bill, but, instead, he used his power to maintain a status quo that he felt was best for America. That was until the Progressives were able to oust him from power in an ugly, public revolt.

#3 Thomas Brackett Reed (1889-1891, 1895-1899)


If you think that Congress is an obstructionist, do-nothing building packed with bloviating narcissists you might just be right, but you haven’t seen the worst of it. To do that you’d need to go back in time to the late 19th Century. Then, the House was a smoking lounge for old, crotchety men who loafed around reading the newspaper and spitting chewing tobacco into spittoons. And they could. These men had manipulated the House (parliamentary) procedures to the point of stalemate. One in particular, the requirement set forth by the Constitution for a quorum to exist before the House could do any business, meant that nearly nothing of significance could get done in the House unless everyone was on board. So, nothing got done. To pull this off, the party in the minority, at the time the Democrats, used what was called the “disappearing quorum” where members who were present in the House chamber would just not answer to the roll call, thus, they weren’t there so no quorum. That all changed when Thomas Brackett Reed assumed the Speaker’s podium. With a simple command to the clerk ordering him to count all people present in chamber and with a note that they are refusing to vote Reed was able to make the disappearing quorum vanish. This became known as Reed’s Rules and it allowed him to quickly expand the role of government leading him to become known as Czar Reed. He pushed for expanded Civil Rights legislation for blacks and got the Lodge Fair Elections Bill pushed through the House. He also presided over the “billion dollar Congress” which passed more bills and appropriated more money than any other preceding peacetime Congress.

#2 Sam Rayburn (1940-1947, 1949-1953, 1955-1961)


Serving just over seventeen years Sam Rayburn is the longest sitting Speaker of the House. He’d served Presidents FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy and was instrumental in the rise of a then Senator Lyndon Johnson to Vice President and eventually the Presidency. Unlike many of his predecessors, Rayburn ruled the House not by driving or forcing its members, but through reason and persuasion. To do this, he relied heavily on intimate relationships and the loyalties he cultivated in both parties. The first test of his leadership came in 1941, just four months before Pearl Harbor, when isolationists tried to block an extension on draft regulations. Rayburn championed Truman’s foreign policy and helped him get the Marshall Plan and other policies through the House. Domestically, he supported Truman’s Fair Deal and was instrumental in ushering through the Housing Act (1949) and Social Security changes. As an old guard Democrat from Texas, Rayburn stood against FDR and Truman’s civil rights proposals, however, Eisenhower’s plans were more palatable and he helped pass legislation in 1957 and again in 1960.

Honorable Mentions

Newt Gingrich (1995-1999)

Carl Albert (1971-1977)

Nathaniel Macon (1801-1807)

#1 Henry Clay (1811-1814, 1815-1820, 1823-1825) 


“The Great Compromiser.” “The Great Pacificator.” Both nicknames for probably one of America’s greatest leaders, Henry Clay, who was so important to the development of the United States that upon his death in 1852 he was the first person to receive the honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capital rotunda. Clay took his seat in the House in 1811 and on the first day of the first session he was elected to the Speaker’s position, a feat never since repeated and only done once before during the very first House session in 1789. His magnetic personality drew men to him, but his ability to scheme and manipulate bills to his will earned him the animosity of many of the same men. Henry Clay transformed the Speaker’s role of mediator and rules enforcer into a position of incredible power second only to that of the president. He used that power to influence the United States into war with Britain in 1812 and then to sit as one of the negotiators at the peace process afterwards. Though a slave owner, he disapproved of the system and became the president of the American Colonization Society and advocated gradual emancipation. While Speaker, he fought for the independence movements of Latin American nations and in some nations became as popular as Simon Bolivar. He negotiated the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and fought, unsuccessfully, for the Five Civilized Tribes to maintain their lands. But the crowning achievement of Clay’s Speakership was his creation and implementation of his “American System“, an economic program that would eventually shape the economic and political policies of America. Henry Clay influenced so many of America’s future political leaders that he could be considered the father of American politicians. A young Abraham Lincoln noted that Clay was his “beau ideal of a statesman” and he would adopt much of Clay’s political ideological style.

Do you agree with the list? Which Speaker of the House do you think deserves to be #1? Comment below and let FTKC know what you think. Follow FTKC for more Dirty Dozen lists and other perspectives on society and history.

The Dirty Dozen: 13 Song Themes that Might Not Be As Popular Today

Unless you are a new band looking for instant publicity or an individual not afraid of public scorn and ridicule, we’d suggest avoiding these themes in your music or belting these tunes out on the subway. Join FTKC as we look at 13 songs that were once popular, though not necessarily chart topping, but might not go over so well with certain segments of the population today. Since music is a representation of the attitudes and emotions of a society, the themes in these songs fit the time that they were released, but, as societies always do, change makes the themes and concepts of the songs on this list the proverbial fish out of water. And for some of these songs we are grateful of that.  For this list, we’ll be looking at songs that had their run in either the social consciousnesses or on the charts.

#13 I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself (1972)–Elton John

Checking in at lucky #13 is a depressing topic. Suicide. But for Americans, this one is a double edged sword. One the one hand, suicide is viewed by nearly three-quarters of American’s as “morally wrong” in a 2010 Gallup poll with only 15% saying it was “morally acceptable.” However, doctor assisted suicide shows a truly divided America with 46% of Americans saying that it was “morally wrong” and an equal 46% of those polled saying hooking oneself to a mercy machine is “morally acceptable.” We suppose the message here is that mopey teenage angst songs about cutting doesn’t… well, cut it, but sing about terminal life choices and you might just set your music career on a terminal destination.

#12 God Bless the USA (1984)–Lee Greenwood

“God Bless the USA” charted at No. 7 in Billboard’s Hot Country Singles in 1984 and for good reason, Americans in the 80s were all agog about America. However, that patriotism has dwindled, despite the song reaching No. 16 on the Pop Chart in 2001 shortly after the 9/11 disasters. For the younger generation, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free” just is not something they would agree with. According to Pew Research, only 32% of Millennials agree with the idea that the U.S. “is the greatest country in the world.” Compare that with the Silent Generation (born between 1925-1945) with 64% of that group saying that America is the best. A Gallup poll found that only 54% are “extremely proud” to be an American with 43% under age 30 agreeing to that.

#11 Johnny 99 (1982)–Bruce Springsteen

Only Bruce Springsteen could take unemployment, poverty, robbery and murder and turn it into a rockabilly song. In “Johnny 99”, a young auto worker gets laid off, gets drunk, and kills a man. When he is sentenced to 99 years in jail, young Johnny asks to be executed instead. When Bruce wrote this song nearly 70% of Americans favored capital punishment, however, that number has declined significantly and again is a divisive subject for Americans. Currently, only 55% of Americans agree with Johnny 99’s death wish (for murderers) with just over a third of Americans opposed to capital punishment. Be careful what you wish for Johnny, you might get your hopes up.

#10 Whistle While You Work

If you’ve been to any number of southern plantations and taken one of their tours, you may have heard your guide tell you the story of the “whistle walk.” Basically, since the kitchen was separate from the main house, the slaves were ordered to whistle while they walked (or in some stories, while they worked in the kitchen) so that they couldn’t sample the food. Historians have found this tale to be somewhat apocryphal so we can discount this aspect.

However, this does not let the famous mouse off the hook! When Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was first released in 1937, society had very distinct attitudes towards the roles of women and men. Namely: Women stayed home and men went to work. Disney’s first princess was more than content to sweep up the messy house; cleaning up after the new men in her life. Thirty years later, almost 50% of mothers with children under 18 were stay at home mothers. That number has decreased to 29% today, and that’s with 55% of women agreeing that it is better for children for a parent to stay at home. And if that wasn’t bad enough, mothers trying to re-enter the work force are often seen as less competent and committed than non-mothers. Worse still, there is a stigma surrounding stay/work-at-home mothers as either lazy welfare queens or Stepford Wives that resemble The Walking Dead zombies rather than engaged spouses. While it might be motivating to whistle a little tune while you work, just don’t suggest that others do so too.

#9 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1987)–U2

Unlike a few of U2’s songs like “40” off of War that are clearly religious in nature (the song pulls its lyrics from Psalms 40), “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a subtle overture to religion and faith. For the Joshua Tree, U2 branched into “American” music and gospel specifically and no where is a better example of this found than with “I Still…” For a mega band like U2 to dabble in religious themes is one thing, but America’s attitudes toward faith and religion is on a slow decline and may not resonate with the same audience. According to a Pew Research survey more Americans are identifying themselves as being atheist, agnostic, or no religion; this is especially true among Democrats and Independents (28% in 2007). This is despite the fact that 83% of the respondents agreed with the statement: “I never doubt the existence of God.” U2 may be able to infuse their music with religion, but that theme is slowly fading from both music and society.

#8 Wives and Lovers (1963)–written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; performed by Julie London, Jack Jones, Wayne Newton, Frank Sinatra, among others

How can you go wrong with a song that opens:

Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make up, soon he’ll open the door.

Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try anymore.

What is the difference between a married wife and “little girl” after all? The song is a tidy list of things that a good wife should do for their husbands in order to maintain a wonderful home. We’re wondering if Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David had a copy of Edward Podolsky’s 1943 book Sex Today in Wedded Life open beside them as they wrote this song. “Don’t bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work,” Podolsky admonishes. “Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business). Morale is a woman’s business.” Based on the song, we don’t think Bacharach and David would disagree. Though we dare you to try and sing this to your wife today, but if you do, FTKC is not liable for the damages. Better yet, make this your first song at your wedding reception!

#7 America (1984)–Waylon Jennings

The first of two songs titled “America” on this list, it would seem from the music industry that this is a pretty darn good country with a lot to be proud of. When Waylon Jennings sings “Well, I come from down around Tennessee/But the people in California/Are nice to me, America” and “And my brothers are all black and white, and yellow, too” it sounds like one wonderful family that is our great nation. But not so fast. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans feel that America has become more divided over the last decade, and that we are more divided now than any other time in recent history save the Civil Rights era. Sadly, 20% of Americans feel that going forward the U.S. will remain united as one country. While you may want to think that coming from Tennessee to Californee you will find people that are nice to you, you may find just the opposite.

#6 Over There (1917)–George M. Cohen

Propaganda be damned this is still one fun ditty, but it’s message has become outmoded in our recalcitrant almost isolationist society. Written by George Cohen, who would later received a Congressional Gold Medal from FDR for this and other songs, “Over There” had one simple purpose: Foster national pride and unity among men able to serve in WWI and get them to enlist. However, the notion of sending our troops “over there”–nicely vague–has lost favor among Americans today. True, a vast majority of Americans–nearly 80%–believe that the military contributes a lot to society, only a tiny majority of those who could have actually served since 9/11; a paltry 12% of American men in their late 20’s post 9/11 have spent time in our armed services. And sending them “over there” is not something Americans want to see anymore. Even to defend Israel should they be attacked–53% of Americans are opposed to sending troops in that situation. Since the Vietnam War, Americans have become more and more leery about the use of troops abroad. So, unless you are North Korea or Iran (two countries who surveyed Americans really do no like or trust), you probably do not have to worry about American troops coming over there any time soon.

#5 America (1981)–Neil Diamond

The second song on this list called “America”, this song is catchy as hell, and more than a little inspirational. Neil Diamond’s 1981 ballad of immigrants reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and could very well be the new inscription on the Statue of Liberty. With lines like “Got a dream to take them there/They’re coming to America/Got a dream they’ve come to share” you cannot be anything but patriotic and hopeful. However, the immigration issue has become contentious, if you’d believe some Republicans, and “America” might not be seen as such a wonderful song. Post 9/11, Clear Channel listed “America” as one of the songs that couldn’t be aired. According to a Pew Research study, attitudes towards immigrants is split across party lines with 63% of Republicans saying that immigrants are a burden on society while 62% of Democrats feel that immigrants strengthen society. In 2013, Reuters found that 30% of Americans felt that most illegal immigrants should be deported while 23% felt that all illegal immigrants should be deported. So, before you break out your best sparkly, blue glitter suit from the ’70s and bust out singing, know your audience.

#4 Gimme Back My Bullets (1976)–Lynyrd Skynyrd

Before music purists get on us for this song, please allow us this disclaimer:

“Gimme Back My Bullets” is not about guns and ammunition, but rather about the “bullets” that appear before a song on the Billboard list indicating that the song is rising in the charts. Lynyrd Skynyrd is singing about wanting to get back up on the charts.

Now, for the reason this song makes our list. There were any number of songs that we could have chose for this topic and place on our list, and we almost went with “Janie’s Got A Gun” by Aerosmith. However, though the song is not about ammunition, the title gets people talking anyway, especially about gun control. In the wake of the recent school shootings and other violent rampages utilizing guns, gun control is about as radioactive a topic as the trees around Chernobyl. Everyone from the President to Girl Scout leaders are talking gun control, gun safety, and what America should do with guns in general. There are those defending their rights under the 2nd Amendment and those who say, “Fine, you can have your 2nd Amendment rights with 2nd Amendment era guns. Have fun shooting your muzzle loading Long Rifle.” Gun control/Gun Rights is an incredibly divisive topic in America today where 47% of Americans currently support gun rights while 50% of Americans support gun control. And the gun control group’s numbers have sharply increased since December 2014. Broken down by party affiliation, one can see how radically divided Americans are on this topic: 73% of Democrats support gun control vs. 26% of Republicans, while only 25% of Democrats support gun rights vs. 71% of Republicans. Tread carefully about singing (or talking) about having a gun, using a gun, or wanting your bullets back. (percentages accessed on 10/22/2015)

#3 (You’re) Having My Baby (1974)– Paul Anka with Odia Coates

We’re not sure if Paul Anka missed the memo that the Feminist Movement was reborn in the 1960’s and in full bear by the 1970’s or that the Supreme Court had just ruled on abortion in the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision a year prior to his release of a surprising #1 chart topping hit, but, either way, Mr. Anka went out on a limb in writing his love song to his wife and four daughters. Though Rolling Stone magazine trashed the song as overly sappy and sentimental, it really earned its venom from feminists just based on the title alone. Nothing says misogynist better than you’re having my baby. Not our baby. My baby. The National Organization for Women gave Mr. Anka their ignominious “Keep Her In Her Place” award for lyrics like “what a lovely way of saying you love me” by having my baby. Ms. magazine awarded Anka their “Male Chauvinist of the Year” prize.

But that’s not the worst of it. Despite the hot button issue of abortion, Anka went ahead and wrote

Didn’t have to keep it/Wouldn’t put you through it/You could have swept it away from your life/But you wouldn’t do it

In one fell swoop, Anka managed to ruffle the feathers of both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice camps in 1974. The Pro-Life audience felt that Anka was trivializing abortions, while the Pro-Choice listeners felt that he was demonizing those who chose abortions. With 38% of Americans feeling that abortion is “morally acceptable” and 50% saying it is “morally wrong” only gay and lesbian relations and doctor assisted suicide are more controversial topics. So, if you are going to sing about abortion, try to do it with a little panache and take a cue from Mr. Anka and tick off everyone while you are at it.

#2 I Shot The Sheriff (1973/1974)–written by Bob Marley, charted with Eric Clapton

Saying that tensions between society and law enforcement are high right now is like saying that islands are surrounded by water. Since the Ferguson unrest in 2014, or maybe since Rodney King in 1992, or the riots in NYC over Clifford Glover’s death in 1973, or possibly since the death of Nation of Islam member Ronald Stokes in 1962…. or, well, okay, it’s been going on for a while. And the dynamics of this argument are as simple as black and white. From there, everything turns a murky gray depending on which side of the argument you lie. Debates abound along cultural, societal, politically motivated, and behavioral lines, but what is clear is that the tensions between society and law enforcement are not easing any time soon. For blacks, only 16% felt that relations between police and minorities will improve in 2015. And it does not get any better among whites where only 21% feel that relations will improve. In fact, 52% of blacks and 34% of whites feel that things would get worse in 2015. In an April 2015 Economist/YouGov poll only 11% felt that the police were more honest than most people, 61% about the same, and 24% felt they were less honest. Though relations appear bleak and honesty is teetering, for the majority of Americans their confidence in the institution of law enforcement remains high and people show more faith in our police forces than most other public institutions. So, while fringe groups may be chanting “What do we want? Dead cops!” and “Arms Up, Shoot Back”, society as a whole may not be ready for you to go off and shoot the sheriff lyrically.

#1 N****s Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha! (1916)–Harry C. Browne; AKA “The Ice Cream Truck Song”

Note: This song is ridiculously racist. We know there are sensitive people who may be reading this, but this is a part of our nation’s history so read at your own caution.

The song link below contains no lyrics. In fact, you’ve probably heard this song nearly every day growing up during the summer.

Minstrelsy. If you are not familiar with this style of music, you are not missing much, but as it is a part of our cultural heritage, a brief history: Though minstrelsy shows existed prior to the Civil War–as evidenced by the popular song “Jump Jim Crow” in the early 1830s, they really took root in American society on the eve of the Civil War and during the Antebellum years and served as a humorous and exploitative look at the struggles of blacks during Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the early 20th Century. Often, white performers would dawn black face and adopt pathetic or feeble black characters in order to uphold white superiority in a post-slavery society, and help reinforce negative, often damning, stereotypes of blacks in America. We chose this song to represent the entire genre because of its familiarity. And then it went away, but not after leaving a dark legacy of stereotypes and caricatures of black society. Here’s to hoping it never comes back.

If you can’t see the stereotype in Harry Browne’s lyrics, we are not going to spell it out for you. Warning: The following link is to the song by Harry Browne

But before you start putting nails in the tires of ice cream trucks and hunkering your children in your basement as the catchy tune slowly reaches a crescendo with the languid approach of the neighborhood ice cream truck, we need to clear up a few things.

  1. Yes, Browne’s lyrics are horribly racist and one of many songs that minstrelsy has brought to society through the years. And we are glad the genre died in the early 20th Century.
  2. No, Browne did not write the music. That was around since the early 19th century in the form of the widely popular fiddle tune “Turkey in the Straw” and that may have been based on an old Irish tune called the “Old Rose Tree”. Neither of which are racist, derogatory, or spiteful in anyway.
  3. “Turkey in the Straw” was still a popular fiddle song in the early 20th century when Browne used the music for his song.
  4. You can find the tune “Turkey in the Straw” in cartoons ranging from Disney (Donald Duck loves playing this tune), to Warner Bros. (Foghorn Leghorn or any time animals are key to the plot), to the Animaniacs (those of you who had children in the 90s, or were children in the 90s). Here’s a link to Wakko Warner of the Animaniacs singing all the States in America to the tune

It would be a stretch to say that the ice cream man, or any ice cream company is blatantly racist because they use the tune. So, let your children out of the basement, let them whistle the tune, and be sure in your knowledge of history and where it has taken us.

Do you agree with the list? Do you think that there is a topic or theme that warrants a place here? Let FTKC know. Follow FTKC for more Dirty Dozen lists and other perspectives on society and history.



Putin, Ukraine and Japan

Photo credit: NBC News

Photo credit: NBC News

Just as the world’s attention was nearly fully and completely drawn into the ISIL/Turkey crisis and the good word that both Nigeria and Senegal are Ebola free, Vladimir Putin had to stick his nose back into world affairs and remind everyone that the mad Russian is still around and has some 5000 nuclear weapons. Trying to ascertain Putin’s foreign policy is akin to attempting to drive cross country blind. However, there are a few historical precedents that we can use to predict possible future outcomes.

There are parallels between modern Russia and its former satellite states and the pre-1941 Japanese empire. They share a similar–though not exact–economic philosophy, both nations worked toward a politically stable region based not solely on politics but also on culture, and each nation was pushed into a corner by aggressive economic policies of Western nations.

Economic Liberalism

Japan burst onto the new world economy in the early 20th Century. The Meiji Era turned Japan into a modern industrialized nation. Unfortunately for Japan, the modern world had already co-opted Asia, specifically China, into powerful spheres of influence which favored Europe and the United States. Early in Japan’s economic growth they experienced a very mercantile system where they provided goods–chiefly textiles–to Asian markets. the primary motive in mercantilism is to better the home state. This mercantilistic nature would eventually mold into the nationalistic identity of Japan pre-WWII where the state ruled and the individual served the state. However, no matter how hard the Japanese leadership tried to integrate into the Asian sphere of influence they found themselves on the outside looking in. To compound their troubles, the Great Depression of the 1930s found the rest of the world insulating themselves and placing economic barriers on Japan in order to protect their colonial markets. So, in the 1930s, a new economic philosophy merged with Japan’s economic liberalism. One that would pit it squarely against the Western world.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break up of the former Soviet Union, Russians werecartoon_1862a thrust into a world of crass consumer capitalism. They were sheep without a shepherd only to find themselves flocking to the siren call of oligarchs disguised as wolves. As with Japan, Russia found itself surrounded by pro-Western nations whose ambitions lay not with the betterment of a whole but the betterment of themselves. Under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin those powerful oligarchs gained both political and economic power in Russia. In light of this and Putin’s own limited experience with capitalism as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Russian economic liberalism still has the individual as its focus, but is skewed from the winners in the system being those who provided the best goods and services to those who are able to take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the competition. When you take into context Putin’s “Millennium Message” of December 29, 1999, the individual serves the state and it is those individuals who take the advantage of vulnerabilities who serve the state best.

For both Japan and Russia, economic liberalism had, at it’s heart, the needs of the state and that need would be viewed by Western powers as a threat.

Pan-Asian Society and Russian Hegemony

For both the Meiji and Putin their success was one of their greatest defeats. Both, through widely divergent means, brought about a modern nation that embraced Western culture and “civilization”. A rising middle class began to make demands on a political structure that was uncertain where it should go. For Japan, it meant Pan-Asian brotherhood. For Putin, it means a domestic stability fashioned around concepts from the former Soviet Union.

Faced with restriction on trade, shipping, and immigration, a nationalistic and eventually asian_monroe_doctrinemilitaristic view of a Pan-Asian brotherhood–later called hakko ichiu (“eight crown cords, one roof”)—emerged. It was a cry for “Asians for Asians” and would lead to Japan’s invasions of Korea–then a puppet state of China–and Manchuria. The rise of Pan-Asianism is a complicated story, but it has at its roots a conflict of interests between conservative and military elitists and a liberal base comprised of the new middle class who were, for the first time, finding a voice in political discourse. One thing these two groups shared was the idea that there was a distinction between the “civilizations” of Eastern (Asian) and Western (European) societies. The liberals studied the colonialism of Europe in Asia and viewed Japan’s place in Asia through the adaptation of Western practices into a Japanese sphere. Western hegemony would be replaced by a true Asian hegemony with Japan at its head. The militarists saw Pan-Asianism as a means to further a conquest mentality of Asia. But both groups sought to protect Japan’s domestic politics through a form of Asian hegemony. Japan understood that the only way to wrest political and economic power in Asia from Western nations was to control the Asian market and continent.

In April 2005, Putin said that “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical  catastrophe of the century.” While some analysts have viewed this as Putin’s secret longing from his KGB days of a Soviet Union that expanded into the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the northern Middle East, what Putin is lamenting in his statement is quite the opposite. Often, he has chastised the West, and the United States primarily, for violating the sovereignty of the state (for example, his March 2003 condemnation of the UN ruling allowing for force in Iraq). Like the Japanese, Putin–a keen student of history himself–watches as Western hegemony increasingly disrupts the fabric of Russian life and the fragile tapestry of the “civilizations” that border his nation–especially Islamic nations. What countries like the United States saw as a pro-Democracy revolt in the 1990s, Putin knows was a revolution of ethnic, religious, and economic ideals that released an “epidemic of disintegration that spread to Russia itself.” Russian statehood stands to collapse. It was this ideal that drove Russia into Georgia and again into Crimea. While Putin doesn’t have a “Pan-Russianism” in his mind and nor could he since the break-up of the former Soviet Union was strongly along ethnic lines, there is an economic hegemony to his goals. Putin understands that Russia straddles the bridge between Asia and Europe and to control that power controls the much of the world. However, he can only do this if he has his borders under control.

Economic Sanctions

In 1899, the United States issued the “Open Door Notes” which outlined the U.S.’s economic and political agenda in China. Through these, the U.S. sought to protect trade in China gained after the Spanish-American War. Though the policy intended to protect China’s political structure, the United States would only tacitly act upon the ideals set for in the notes. This was especially true after Japan levied their 21 Demands on China in 1915. The U.S. gave into Japanese “special interests” in Chinese Manchuria, Mongolia and Shandong. As the Japanese continued to expand–militaristically after the 1931 invasion of Manchuria–the U.S. adopted a policy of economic sanctions and verbal rebukes of Japanese territorial gains. The sanctions had little impact on Japan’s desire to grow its Pan-Asian “civilization”, and as the U.S. continued to place embargoes on Japan and then ignore its own sanctions, Japan realized that the only thing stopping them from achieving their goals was the United States and they were showing a weak hand. Coupled with the coups in the mid-30s that brought the hardline military back into power, the liberal cabinet groups and the Prime Minister had to walk a delicate balance of moderate political-economic reform with a growing tide of militaristic nationalism. That the United States hardly aided China when Japan invaded province after province only served to bolster Japan’s motivation. While the economic embargoes and lack of military aid to China may not have wholly brought on World War II, the decisions made by the United States during these years were a decisive factor.

And now, the United States has resorted to imposing economic sanctions on a nation once again. It is possible that these sanctions will either back Russia into a corner that it cannot, without losing face, retreat from or illustrate a general weakness in the United States’ ideal of “global leadership.” Either way, Russia and Putin will continue to operate as a regional hegemon. But why?

406301One of Putin’s greatest skills is that he is a man of history. Both Soviet history and the history of the world. He knows the past. And he is watching it being played out all over again on his doorstep. No matter how hard Ukraine’s President Poroshenko lobbies for stronger economic sanctions against Russia, the West has been reluctant to impose further sanctions, and in the case of Germany grudgingly to do so in the first place. Ukraine is today’s China of the 1930s. A nation toyed with by the West, but when push comes to shove will be left to deal with Russia on its own. And Putin is counting on this politically learned behavior. If Putin can discredit the West’s actions he could force the Ukraine into a closer relationship thus securing a Russian hegemony in an Eastern European space.

Beyond any sanctions, Putin also knows how the West tacitly allowed Japan into Manchuria in 1915 and again in the 1930s. Putin’s Manchuria was the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. When the dust settled the United States never sent direct military aid to Georgia and George Bush imposed limited economic sanctions which would eventually be lifted by President Obama in 2012. Germany remained an intermediary never taking sides. Italy actually sided with Russia in its territorial gains. The West could not allow relations with Russia to be undermined by a conflict in “tiny and insignificant Georgia.”

As both nations, Japan and Russia, stepped up their need to protect their state, both politically and economically, the United States levied what they viewed as the strongest sanctions upon each nation: Oil embargoes. On July 26th, 1941, four months ahead of the Pearl Harbor attacks, FDR, in reaction to the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China, froze all Japanese assets in America and forced Japan to lose 88 percent of all its oil imports. The hope was to cripple Japan into submission. Though Japan had a three year reserve, Japanese leadership realized war with the United States was inevitable. The militaristic leadership in Japan had been pushed into a corner. Instead of backing down, Japan just reached out for more territory and eventually attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.

Putin and his close associate Igor Sechin--head of Rosneft

Putin and his close associate Igor Sechin–head of Rosneft

The Obama Administration is trying the exact same policy. In March 2014, the U.S. froze the assets of a number of Russian businessmen who are believed to have close ties to Putin. Recently, the United States brought to bear additional pressures on the two largest banks in Russia by not allowing them raise long-term loans. Bank Rossiya is widely considered the “personal bank” for major Russian officials who are also closely tied to Putin. Also, the United States, along with the EU, placed export restrictions on oil from Russia’s Gazprom (the EU also placed restrictions on Rosneft and Transneft). However, there were no restrictions placed on natural gas output. All this in the hope that Putin will back down from his firm Ukraine stance. All the U.S. and the EU got in return was an import ban from Russia on fresh fruit, meat, vegetables, and dairy products. Food exporters are already facing large losses.

The Future Viewed From The Past

While these restrictions may hurt Russia in the short-term, a devaluation of the Rubble to dirt status is inevitable, Russia–and its people– can weather this storm. Russia will still have trade partners with China. Oil will still get to market. Gas is still getting to market. EU nations like Germany depend on Russian oil and gas. A large portion of Germany’s exports go into Russia, especially luxury goods. The EU’s trade with Russia is worth nearly 300 billion euros. There will come a breaking point, and I’m not sure that Russia will break. Putin knows that no European nation will come to the Ukraine’s defense at the risk of an economic blackout. The United States has shown that it is nearly indifferent to giving direct aid to the Ukraine, not unlike we did with Georgia and with China.

In the end, history has taught us that economic sanctions may weaken the Russian economy at the cost of many Western industries, but it will only strengthen Putin’s resolve to expand Russia’s political and economical hegemony. Will Russia unleash another “Pearl Harbor”? Unlikely. But will Putin back down? Also, unlikely.

Breaking Down President Obama’s Immigration Speech–20 Nov. 2014, Part II

Obama: Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already had live in our country. I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why over the past six years deportations of criminals are up 80 percent, and that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day….[purposely skipping portion] Now here is the thing. We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.

Breakdown: This is where the President steps into murky waters. On the one hand, he is appealing to the segment of America that uses the term illegal immigrant while, on the other hand, tries to mollify those that use undocumented immigrant. He says, “Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws.” Then he says, “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children.” According to Title 8 Section 1325, anyone entering the United States without proper inspection has committed a crime. It is a misdemeanor. He is correct in saying that they broke the law. That these immigrants do not have documents matters nothing.

Every person here that has either overstayed their visa or are considered “Entry Without Inspection” (EWI)–the technical term for crossing the border illegally–has a Federal Criminalcriminal misdemeanor on their record. If these people are expected to pass a criminal background check, they will fail. A misdemeanor is a misdemeanor. Adrian Peterson is suspended without pay for a misdemeanor. I do not wish to get into the argument of spanking or not spanking your child (switch or not), but want to point out that he is without pay until at least April 15, 2015 for a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor DUI is enough to cause you to not gain employment when your background is checked; your admission to a university, or scholarship could be withdrawn or not given. Source. According to a Time Magazine article, something as seemingly innocuous as a misdemeanor driving with a suspended license “can trigger the same legal hindrances, known as collateral consequences, as felonies.” Source.

In this light, not a single illegal immigrant would be able to pass a background check. The President acknowledges they committed a crime, but is that crime enough to warrant their denial to access to his plan?

If the answer is no, then is the President attempting to re-write a law that he says these immigrants broke? Is the Federal misdemeanor of EWI to be ignored? If so, what other misdemeanors are to be ignored? Should Adrian Peterson be reinstated immediately and his private life ignored? Should a person with a DUI be allowed to operate a bus for a local municipality?

If the misdemeanor issue was not messy enough, Obama then says, “Felons, not families.” According to U.S. Immigration law, anyone who was deported from the United States and then attempts to enter is guilty of a felony crime. How many of these parents fall into this category? How many fathers tried to come to the U.S., got caught, were deported, came back in and started a family? The question becomes complicated again. Which felonies are okay and not okay? Can we pick and choose which laws we are going to obey and not? President Obama would argue, from this speech, that we cannot just pick and choose. “We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules.” So, in this light, a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor and a felony is a felony. These immigrants cannot pass a simple background check.

Obama: Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying isgetoutofjail we’re not going to deport you. I know some of the critics of the action call it amnesty. Well, it’s the not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today. Millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That’s the real amnesty, leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it to our character. What I’m describing is accountability. A common sense middle- ground approach. If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

Breakdown: The murk gets thicker here, however, there are some truths that should be acknowledged: Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it [sic] to our character. Mass amnesty would grant certain rights to people that as a society we would deem unfit for our nation–felons, gang member, etc. Mass deportation would be akin to herding cats and has the danger of also rounding up people who are in the U.S. legally.

Unfortunately, when the President says that it is not amnesty, it is. Amnesty is defined as:

1. a general pardon of offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction.

2. Law. an act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole.

3. a forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.

Obama admits that these immigrants are breaking American law. Then we are giving them a means to “get right with the law.” We are forgiving their past offenses, especially if we are to ignore the misdemeanor EWI in their background check. But, the President is correct when he says that the real amnesty is our current system. Though we are not forgiving past offenses, we definitely are overlooking them. But this applies to both the immigrant and the employers hiring them.

One sentence in Obama’s speech leads to a possible conclusion that the President is not sure that his policy is even legal: Only Congress can do that. In this one statement, the President is admitting that Congress has the legal authority to write immigration law. Though he states that his policy is not intended to grant citizenship or right to stay permanently, there is little in either his speech or Senate Bill 744 that deals with people who opt out of the program.

Obama: The actions I’m taken are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century. And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.

Breakdown: If the President is going to use the playground rule, “He did it, so can I” then he better use it correctly. Saying that previous presidents used Executive Orders to get things done is like lighting a short fuse on a bomb glued to your hand. Just because other fdr_signing_9066Presidents used an executive order does not make it a good policy. In 1942, FDR issued Executive Order (EO) 9066 which made it possible for the U.S. to send thousands of American citizens of Japanese decent into internment camps scattered throughout the American west. George W. Bush took the EO powers to frightening level with EO 13233 effectively throwing government transparency out the door, and Bill Clinton’s EO 13107 made it so the Executive branch could enforce UN treaties within America without Congress’ consent. This is what happens when one person rules unchecked.

Another problem with the President’s claim that other’s before him issues EO’s regarding immigrations is fraught with half-truths and distortions. If we go back a half-century there are three examples of a President using EO’s in dealing with immigration. In 1956, President Eisenhower used EOs to expand the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Refugee Relief Act whose quotas prevented adopted children of Americans working internationally to bring their children home with them. In the same year, Ike used a provision within the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to grant close to 32,000 Hungarian war refugees temporary admittance into the United States. In 1960, he used the same law to aid Cuban refugees. None of these actions used EOs to create new laws, but worked within the bounds of ones already established.

One of the biggest issues with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was that it was intentionally vague on the status of mixed eligibility families. At the urging of Congress, Reagan used his EO powers to fix this problem for some 100,000 families. In 1990, George H.W. Bush used his EO powers to scrap the Reagan EO and created a means for not only the children ignored in the 1986 Act to be secured, but also the spouses of these people. Though somewhat similar, neither Presidential EO acted independently of Congress as President Obama is threatening to do. You can read more on these at

You can read Part III here