Tag Archives | American History

The Secret History of American Surveillance

You might think that the surveillance state of America is a new thing, but it goes back a long way according the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal:

From cellphone spying to facial scanning technology to massive data farms, it’s no secret that the U.S. government is gathering loads of personal information on its citizens.

But few remember the origins of our modern surveillance state. Some argue that it was forged over 115 years ago, half a world away in the Philippine Islands.

Ralph Van Deman.jpg

Capt. Ralph Van Deman, “the father of U.S. military intelligence.”


The story begins in the mid-1870s, when a technological renaissance catapulted America into its first information revolution. Thomas Edison’s quadruplex telegraph and Philo Remington’s typewriter allowed data to be recorded accurately and transmitted quickly. Inventions such as the electrical tabulating machine and the Dewey Decimal System could count, catalog and retrieve huge amounts of information efficiently.

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The Case for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

CCDay– Eric Scott Pickard is an artist, activist, poet and writer. He is a Co-Founder of media collective Free Radical Media and a co-host of the Free Radical Media podcast, available via YouTube and Itunes

On 12 October of 1492, Cristobal Colon, known as Christopher Columbus, having made landfall on the island of Hispaniola, first encountered the native peoples of the Americas. Columbus was certainly not the first European to visit the Americas, and and perhaps not even the first visitor from the Old World, to visit North and South America since the closing of the land bridge in ancient times. He was, however, the man who opened the door in modern times to vast new lands, full of new plants, animals, and people, and the effect of 12 October, 1492 on the Americas cannot be understated.

The narrative in Western, and especially American history books is mostly one of vague allusions and rhetoric: a story of exploration, strangers in a strange land, a journey fraught with danger, leading to the discovery of a whole “New World”.… Read the rest

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Time to Abolish Columbus Day

From the very beginning, Columbus was not on a mission of discovery but of conquest and exploitation. It is time to abolish the holiday commemorating his accomplishments. (Photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison)

From the very beginning, Columbus was not on a mission of discovery but of conquest and exploitation. It is time to abolish the holiday commemorating his accomplishments. (Photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison)

This post originally appeared on Common Dreams. See more of Bill Bigelow’s articles here.

Once again this year many schools will pause to commemorate Christopher Columbus. Given everything we know about who Columbus was and what he launched in the Americas, this needs to stop.

Columbus initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in early February 1494, first sending several dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain. Columbus described those he enslaved as “well made and of very good intelligence,” and recommended to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that taxing slave shipments could help pay for supplies needed in the Indies. A year later, Columbus intensified his efforts to enslave Indigenous people in the Caribbean. He ordered 1,600 Taínos rounded up—people whom Columbus had earlier described as “so full of love and without greed”—and had 550 of the “best males and females,” according to one witness, Michele de Cuneo, chained and sent as slaves to Spain.… Read the rest

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How Muzak Shaped A Conformist America

Tonya Riley via All That is Interesting:

Although it might be easier to ignore in an age where nearly ever American carries thousands of songs in their pocket, the unmistakable sound of Muzak still haunts us all. An estimated 100 million people (nearly a third of America’s population) are exposed to Muzak’s background music each day, whether in an elevator, on hold with the cable company or elsewhere. Although the Muzak brand technically went bankrupt in 2009 and lost its name in 2013 after new owners moved in, its technology set the stage for almost a century of bland, instrumental music that became the soundtrack to postwar America and continues to this day.

Muzak was founded in 1934 by former Army General George O. Squier, who had led the U.S. Army’s communication efforts during World War I. Squier was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1919 after his patented multiplexing system allowed for multiple signals to be transferred over one phone line.

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Which Of The 11 American Nations Do You Live In?

No doubt there will be some argument about Colin Woodard’s classification of the eleven nations that America is truly comprised of, but he makes some fairly astute points about the divisions and diversity of the United States (and some of Canada), summarized by the Washington Post:

Red states and blue states? Flyover country and the coasts? How simplistic. Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books, says North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government.

“The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps — including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history,” Woodard writes in the Fall 2013 issue of Tufts University’s alumni magazine.

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Confronting Southern ‘Victimhood’

Robert Parry writes at Consortiumnews:

Unlike the Germans after World War II who collectively shouldered blame for the Holocaust and the war’s devastation, America’s white Southerners never confessed to the evil that they had committed by enslaving African-Americans and then pushing the United States into a bloody Civil War in their defense of human bondage.

american pride, southern stride

Photo: Erika dot net (CC)

Instead of a frank admission of guilt, there have been endless excuses and obfuscations. Confederate apologists insist that slavery wasn’t really all that bad for blacks, that the North’s hands weren’t clean either, that the Civil War was really just about differing interpretations of the Constitution, that white Southerners were the real victims here – from Sherman’s March to the Sea to Reconstruction. Some white Southerners still prefer to call the conflict “the war of Northern aggression.”

Indeed, Southern white “victimhood” has been at the heart of much bloodshed and suffering in the United States not only during the Civil War and the ensuing decades but through the modern era of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the present bigoted hatred of the first African-American president and the coldblooded murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Congress’ Hare-Brained Scheme to Shoot Rain From the Skies

dyrenforthThe headline sounds like the latest Snowpiercer-style geoengineering, but in fact it’s a history piece by Cynthia Barnett at Politico looking back at the original “Rain Maker”:

In August 1891, Robert St. George Dyrenforth, a Washington patent attorney, arrived by train to the small Midland, Texas, station in a desolate stretch of the southern plains. He had sent ahead a freight car with a bewildering assemblage of rabble: mortars, casks, barometers, electrical conductors, seven tons of cast-iron borings, six kegs of blasting powder, eight tons of sulfuric acid, one ton of potash, 500 pounds of manganese oxide, an apparatus for making oxygen and another for hydrogen, 10- and 20-foot-tall muslin balloons and supplies for building enormous kites.

Dyrenforth, his odd freight, and a small group of self-styled experts—“all of whom know a great deal, some of them having become bald-headed in their earnest search for theoretical knowledge,” joked a pundit—were met by local cattle ranchers.

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The Official History of Monopoly Is a Fraud


First page of patent submission for second version of Lizzie Magie’s board game, submitted in 1923 and granted in 1924.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of America’s best-selling board game, Monopoly. And while many folks might fib about their age, Hasbro’s accounting of the game’s birth is quite the tall tale.

The true story is revived in a new book by journalist Mary Pilon, The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, just released by Bloomsbury. I also cover the game’s origins in my documentary PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy’s High Stakes, showing how a folk game was co-opted by a big company to become a billion-dollar industry.

I had set out to use a Monopoly metaphor to make the issues of campaign finance more relatable. Since practically everyone played the game in childhood, it has a nostalgic connection, though in hindsight it does teach some rather insidious lessons, such as felony crime.

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The Train To Crystal City

[Excerpted from The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster.]

Trains are a primary symbol of World War II. During the war, life and death revolved around the arrival and departure of trains. American troops boarded Pullman cars with signs on them that said HITLER HERE WE COME and ON TO TOKYO. Along the tracks, American workers, who saved rubber tires and tin for the war effort, waved their arms to the troops, saluting them with smiles. Trains led soldiers to ships and to battle. Women waited at train stations for the return of their husbands and lovers and kicked up their heels when their men disembarked. In Germany, more than 6 million Jews were shipped in cattle cars, floors strewn with straw, to concentration camps.

And then there were the trains that transported people to Crystal City, Texas. Week after week, month after month, from 1942 to 1948, trains with window shades pulled shut carried approximately six thousand civilians from all over the world across miles of flat, empty plains to the small desert town at the southern tip of Texas, only thirty miles from the Mexican border.… Read the rest

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Five Surprises About American Internment During World War II

The general history of America’s internment of its own citizens during World War II has focused on the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese, 62 percent of them American-born, who were forcibly evacuated from the Pacific coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

But few people know that Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, which permitted the roundup of Japanese and their American-born children, also paved the way for the arrest of Germans and Italians who the FBI considered security risks and labeled as “enemy aliens.” Indeed the day before Roosevelt signed the order FBI agents had arrested 264 Italians, 1,296 Germans, and 2,209 on the East and West Coast. The hunt for perceived enemies was on.

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The Crystal City Internment Camp in World War II

Here are five surprising facts about the extent of FDR’s internment program:

Fact One: The arrests of suspected enemies extended far beyond our national borders. Under provisions of the Enemy Alien Act of 1798, the same act that allowed Presidents George W.… Read the rest

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