Monday, April 29, 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Though this comes a little late as tribute to the woman who passed away April 8th of this year, today's blog post will focus on the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

"What Britain needs is an iron lady." -Margaret Thatcher


Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were contemporary leaders of two powerful democratic countries during the ideological battle known as the Cold War. Both Thatcher and Reagan were known for their conservative ideals, and the two were very close as a result. Thatcher was the longest serving British PM in the 20th century and also the first and only female PM. She served the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.

During her terms, she met weekly with Queen Elizabeth II to discuss matters of business. The press tended to speculate that Thatcher and the Queen did not get along, though Thatcher later reveals that she and the Queen had absolutely no trouble getting along and agreed on most issues.

Thatcher demonstrated extreme frugality with her funds in office, though government spending increased 12.9% during her terms. In facing economic issues, Thatcher reduced spending on social services and decreased income taxes. She also increased indirect taxes and increased interest rates to lower inflation. Her terms saw a steep fall and then a steep rise in economic well-being. The recession of the early 1980s saw 3 million unemployed Britons and a low job approval rating for Thatcher of 23%. Yet in 1982, the UK began to recover, and in 1987, the economy stabilized and became strong while inflation fell. The Conservatives held a lead in opinion polls.

She supported many other conservative ideas, such as reducing the power of unions and increasing privatization of business. A source of conflict came under the Irish Republican Army's attempted assassination of Thatcher and successful assassination of 5 other government officials. Following this, Thatcher controversially signed the Anglo-Irish agreement, granting the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland.

In the matter of foreign affairs, Thatcher was staunchly anti-communist. She also opposed the integration of Europeans into a singular identity. She opposed apartheid but also didn't approve of the sanctions imposed on South Africa to end it, and she became the first British PM to visit China, where she discussed the issue of Hong Kong sovereignty.

In later years, her party became more popular than her. Her party believed they would not win the election with her as lead, and voted for Michael Heseltine over her. She viewed it as a betrayal. However, John Major, not Heseltine, succeeded her as Prime Minister.

Sources:, Brainy, Margaret, Wikipedia

Friday, April 26, 2013

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore is another of those lesser known presidents. He was the second of currently twelve presidents who held office without a vice president. He switched during his life from the anti-Masonic party to the Whig party, and he rose to the presidency following Zachary Taylor's death, as he was Taylor's vice president.

One of the things Fillmore should be known for is his foreign policy. It was due to his influence that Japan was forced to open up and trade with the Treaty of Kanagawa. He also aggressively protected territories from the Americas from foreign control, such as opposing French attempts to annex Hawaii and French and British attempts to invade Cuba. He also later switched to the Know Nothing party (or American party), noted for its xenophobia.

He did not slack on the home front either. He supported the Compromise of 1850 and signed the Fugitive Slave Act. When Fillmore took office, every member of Taylor's cabinet submitted their resignation. Following the bold act, Fillmore surrounded himself with fellow moderate Whigs.

After his presidency, Fillmore also detracted from Lincoln, and he supported Johnson during the Reconstruction Acts following the Civil War. Perhaps mostly due to his Southern sympathetic policies and his ideas and lax handling of the growing debate over slavery, Fillmore is consistently ranked among the ten worst presidents in US History. His popularity even during his era was not high; Whigs who felt betrayed by his protection of slavery did not support him for a second term.

Sources: Yahoo! Voices, Wikipedia,, White

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Comic Control in the US

In the 1950s, really lasting up until the 2000s, US comics were regulated through the Comics Code Authority (CCA). This organization was formed as an alternative to the government regulating comics. Comics would get submitted to the CCA and the comics would only get the CCA's seal of approval if they fit the code. The need for comic censorship arose from public concern over the gore and horror sometimes depicted in comics. In some cities, dissent was so extreme that public comic book burnings took place and crime/horror comic books were banned.

At the time, many comic book authors felt stifled by the censorship. The words "crime," "horror," and "terror," were not allowed in the comic book's title. Creatures such as vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and zombies were outalwed. As a result, EC Comics experienced a cancelling of every single one of its titles in the year following the CCA's institution. The only surviving 'comic' became MAD, which was transferred to magazine format so as to be out of the CCA's jurisdiction.

And in a famous blow to the CCA's reputation, Stan Lee challenged them with a Spider-Man story. On the request of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Stan Lee produced a story in which narcotics were displayed in an extremely negative light. However, comics depicting the use of narcotics at all defied the code of the CCA, so the CCA refused to give their seal. This is in contrast to an earlier story, a Deadman story, approved despite the inclusion of narcotics because the story dealt with the wholesale handling of narcotics. In defiance, Lee removed the Code Seal from the storyline and gained public acclaim.

The CCA had to change its code due to backlash to allow the negative portrayal of drugs, though the damage to its reputation was done.

Throughout the '60s and '70s, "underground" comics allowing the 'edgy' material denied to readers began to arise. The code changed many times throughout the 1980s to the 2000s, allowing for more violence and a depiction of sympathetic criminals or corrupt police officers so long as good triumphed over evil in the end. In 2001, Marvel withdrew from the CCA and created its own rating system to indicate appropriate age groups.

The CCA continued to lose public support and comic companies, eventually becoming an obsolete form of censorship.

Sources: TV Tropes, Wikipedia,

Monday, April 22, 2013

Berlin Airlift

Perhaps you're familiar with the world stage after World War II. Germany was occupied and divided between the Allied Powers of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the USSR. The US, UK, and France, eventually consolidated their zones, creating a separate East and West Germany. Within West Germany, democracy and Western technologies and reparations were enjoyed. Within East Germany, an oppressive communist regime and outdated technology reigned.

However, the capital city of Berlin, located deeply within East Germany, was considered too strategic a place to be under sole Soviet control. And so Berlin was also divided into four zones for the four occupying Allied nations. Upon the consolidation of the Western Allies' zones into West Germany, the Western zones in Berlin were also consolidated to form a West and an East Berlin.

This peculiar situation meant that West Berlin stood as an 'outpost' of democracy within a 'sea of communism.' The USSR, resentful that the other Allied powers owned territory deep within the Soviet zone of East Germany, wished to force the Allies out and conquer West Berlin itself. As the Cold War, an ideological conflict largely pitting the capitalist ideals of the US against the communist ideals of the USSR, was starting, Berlin became one of the first locations where the two powers stood in conflict. However, the Cold War was characterized for its lack of direct violence, and that showed through in the Berlin conflict as well.

The USSR, in control of all railroads and the like surrounding West Berlin, blockaded the city in an attempt to force its surrender through starvation. A blockade is normally considered an act of war. However, the US was not willing to respond with violence after the just-recently finished and heavily bloody World War II. Yet, President Truman was even less willing to let West Berlin fall to the Soviets. He considered the West Berlin area to be a strategic area of influence for the Western Allies. He also believed he could not abandon the West Berliners and that surrendering to the Soviets would make the US seem weak.

And so the US responded to the blockade in a non-violent way. Thus came the Berlin Airlift. For a year since 1948, the US flew in food and supplies to the West Berliners by way of helicopter. Together, US and British forces delivered 2.3 million tons. In addition, the famed 'Candy Bomber,' Gail Halvorsen, dropped candy with parachutes to the children of West Berlin. The Soviets eventually withdrew the blockade and the Airlift's effects were to increase pride and trust in the United States.

Sources: Spirit of, Wikipedia, Hill Air Force Base

Friday, April 19, 2013

Zachary Taylor

Presidential Friday is upon is, and so is Zachary Taylor. He served only 16 months before dying suddenly of cholera morbus, though unlike other Presidents who served short terms like William Harrison and James Garfield, he is always in the list for presidential rankings.

"Old Rough and Ready" Taylor was a Virginian and a member of the Whig Party. He became known to the public as a war hero in the Mexican War, and he appealed to both Northerners and Southerners. Northerners admired his long military history and Southerners were comforted by the fact that Taylor owned slaves.

However, when Taylor assumed the presidency, he took an anti-slavery stance. He pushed for the admittance of California and New Mexico as states, knowing they would likely ban slavery. This paved the way for the Compromise of 1850. Southerners felt betrayed and angry, and when they spoke of secession, Taylor replied that those "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang ... with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico."

The Gold Rush in occurrence helped Taylor sell the public on the idea of Californian statehood. Taylor faced controversy in his recognization of New Mexico, as Texas and New Mexico had unsettled border disputes. Texas was willing to protect the disputed territory by force, but was unsuccessful as Taylor sided with the New Mexicans. Furthermore, Taylor organized the Utah Territory as a federal territory, but promised the leaders there (the Latter-Day Saints) relative independence and religious freedom to ease their concerns.
Amidst all, Southern tension rose over the debate on slavery. Taylor didn't live to see the Civil War that he had no hesitancy about fighting. But his only son Richard ended up a Confederate soldier.

Sources: Miller Center,, White, Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Baltic Way

The Baltic Way, or Baltic Chain, refers to a peaceful protest against communist rule in the Baltic nations.

On August 23, 1989, over a million inhabitants from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia held hands across the three states and demanded an end to Soviet occupation and a reinstatement of independence for the Baltic states. The human chain was 600 km, or about 373 miles, long. Another of its nicknames is "the Singing Revolution."

File:The Baltic Way.jpg

Though the three nations had been under Soviet rule for the past 50 years following World War II, the nations were previously independent. The fiercely independent citizens formed national movements, and the Baltic Chain was itself a joint effort of the Popular Front of Estonia Rahvarinne, the Popular Front of Latvia, and the Lithuanian Reform Movement Sąjūdis.

 File:Balti kett Käru.jpg

The protest took place on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia that marked the beginning of Soviet expansion into eastern Europe. During the protest, Baltic people spoke of illegal Soviet occupation and attempted to appeal to others on a moral level as to why the Baltic states should regain independence. Though the USSR responded to the protests with rhetoric, the government did not respond very much, and so the Baltic nations strayed even further from the USSR. The USSR, in its decline, neither brutally cracked down on the rebellion nor responded positively.

Commemorative Coin

The peaceful movement inspired many democratic reforms and movements throughout the rest of the USSR, and the Baltic nations soon afterwards succeeded in a peaceful transition to independence as the Soviet Union collapsed for good in 1991.

File:Baltic Way 1.jpg

Sources:, Baltic, Wikipedia

Friday, April 12, 2013

James K. Polk

On this 11th Presidential Friday, we study President James Knox Polk. His rise to the presidency was a surprise, as he had been relatively obscure as a member of the Democratic party. His Whig party opponents even joked, "Who is James K. Polk?" Then, when he won the election against Henry Clay, Polk was considered a "dark horse" candidate.

 File:Polk Dallas campaign banner.jpg

Though Polk was initially seeking only Vice Presidency, his ambitions rose when both Democratic and Whig candidates stated their opposition to the annexation of Texas, unlike Polk. However, Andew Jackson sensed the people's urge for expansionism and urged his party to nominate an expansionist candidate, which led to Polk's name appearing on the ballot for President.

Indeed, Polk felt strongly about the US owning certain territories. He nearly went to war with the United Kingdom over control of the Oregon territory, eventually splitting it with the Brits. Additionally, he led the US to success in the Mexican-American war and therefore control of Texas. In addition, he established a treasury system lasting until 1913. For all this, Polk is sometimes referred to as the "least known consequential president."

He pledge to serve only one term and followed through, dying of cholera only three months post his presidential term. Scholars rank him favorable amongst US presidents- he consistently places between 16th and 8th best President. A strong proponent of Manifest Destiny, Polk first made the US a coast-to-coast nation. For this, he is both praised and criticized.

He was also criticized during his presidency for abolitionists when he declined to forbid slavery in the new Texas area. He did, however, wish to extend the Missouri Compromise line, above which slavery would be forbidden and below which states could decide on their own for the issue of slavery. Polk himself owned slaves his entire life, but stipulated that his slaves should be freed when his wife died (though she died in 1891, long after slaves were emancipated.)

File:James Knox Polk by GPA Healy, 1858.jpg

Sources: America's, White, Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Utrecht Treaties

The treaties of Utrecht helped bring an end to the War of Spanish Succession, which had been fought from 1701 to 1713. The conflict stemmed from who would rule Spanish territories following Habsburg rulers becoming extinct in 1700. One side, backed by the previous King Charles II, supported Charles II's closest relative in the female line, Phillipe de France/ Felipe V of Spain. But the Habsburg of Austria, consisting of the closest relatives in the female line, instead thought they should have the throne. In addition, many other European nations did not wish for French royalty to extend their control over so many territories.

 File:Treaty of Utrecht.jpg

The war's ended up consisting of France and the Spanish loyal to Felipe V against the Holy Roman Empire, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, Savoy, and the Spanish supporting the archduke Charles VI.

The significance of the Utrecht treaties refers to how it divided the Spanish empire, which was the largest European kingdom of the time, and eased tensions over expanded French control in Europe. The French talked peace first with the United Kingdom, where the division of Spanish territories was essentially accepted despite the absence of either Spanish army at the meeting in London. Through these treaties, France was guaranteed all of the land it formerly took over, while recognizing British rule in Rupert's Land and Newfoundland and while also giving Acadia and half of Saint Kitts to the United Kingdom.

 Swearing the OathFelipe V, of French descent, ended up in control of Spain, though he had to cut ties to French royalty so that a union of the Spanish empire to the French empire would not come about.

In this way, opponents of French control were somewhat eased by these treaties. France, though reluctantly, was able to retain much of its land by making some concessions. And Spanish loyal to Felipe V saw their preferred ruler take the throne. But Spain itself, particularly Spanish supporters of the archduke Charles VI, saw defeat and the breaking up of the Spanish empire.

Spain ceded the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Milan, and Sardinia to the Habsburg Monarchy in Austria. Sicily went to Savoy. Minorca and Gibraltar went to the United Kingdom. Spanish Guelders went to the Dutch, and Santíssimo Sacramento went to the Portuguese. 

These treaties led to a major map change in Europe, changing the so-called 'playing field' for many key 'players' such as Spain, France, and the UK. It was a part of the decline of the Spanish Empire.

Sources: Heraldica, Wikipedia,

Monday, April 8, 2013


Here is the belated Monthly Micronation Monday! Today, we research Seborga, a micronational principality within the country of Italy.

What's interesting about Seborga in comparison to some other micronations is its previous periods of relative self-rule. Its website claims Seborga as a sovereign state since 954 AD, a principality since 1079, having its own currency since about 1630, and never being annexed or annexable by Italy.

Like many micronations, Seborga is ruled by royalty. Unlike many micronations, the citizens of Seborga elect their prince: their latest is a building contractor named Marcello Menegatto. 156 of Seborga's 220 eligible voters cast their vote in the election. Seborga maintains its own newspaper, The Seborga Times, and an active internet life.

Previously in 954 AD, what is now Italy ceded Seborga to the Lerin Islands, where Seborgan/Seborghini (the demonym for the micronation is Seborgan while the demonym for the city of Seborga is Seborghini) ministers were made Princes of the of the Holy Roman Empire with primary control of Seborga, which was recognized as a Principality. In 1079, the Kingdom of Sardinia (Italy's predecessor state) annexed Seborga, but the lack of a written act or treaty recording the annexation brings about an interesting point by Seborgan independence supporters. Such supporters also point out that Italy omits Seborga's existence in a number of treaties, including the 1861 Italian Act of Unification.

Though no other nation has recognized Seborga's sovereignty claims, the micronation has received a lot of tourism for its troubles. The micronation also started a new currency called Luigino, though they have no value outside of Seborga. Luiginos are priced at about $6.00 US dollars, making it the highest-priced currency in the world. Giorgio Carbone, leader of the independence movement, was elected Head of State in 1963 and served as Prince until his death in 2009.

Seborga has an army of one: Lt. Antonello Lacala. It also gives out stamps and has a thriving economy due to tourism and the Luigino. Seborga's independence claims, recognized or not, have helped the city and its citizens develop a culture and economy all their own.

Sources: Principality of, The Seborga Times, Wikipedia

Friday, April 5, 2013

John Tyler

Tenth Presidential Friday is dedicated to John Tyler, the US's tenth president. Among his nicknames are "His Accidency," as he rose to the presidency after William Harrison's death. He served the country from 1841 to 1845.

As a Whig, the inaugural address he issued seemed to fit the Whig platform nicely. However, Tyler was initially a Democrat who turned to the Whig party mostly out of opposition to Jackson and van Buren. When Tyler vetoed a National Bank on the grounds of states' rights, the Whig political leaders expelled Tyler from their party. Every member of the cabinet aside from Secretary of State Webster resigned. Later in his presidency, upon vetoing a tariff bill, a committee led by John Quincy Adams brought up impeachment charges on the grounds of misuse of veto power, though these charges did not succeed.

 File:Tyler receives news.jpg

Though on the domestic front, the opposition of the Whig party led to little development, Tyler formed treaties with both Britain and China during his presidency. He also dedicated the last two years of his presidency to annexing Texas. He laid the groundwork and Congress passed the resolution in his last days as President. The annexing was carried out by Tyler's successor, President Polk.

Though he sought re-election, neither the Whig party nor the Democratic party could identify with his hybrid policies, and he ended up a one-term President. In later years, in 1861, John Tyler sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War and became a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

He is held in generally low esteem, or often viewed as an obscure President. However, his ascension to the Presidency following William Harrison's death set a precedent for succession should a President die in office. This eventually became codified in the 25th amendment.

Sources:, White, Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bay of Pigs

Apologies for missing Monday! I would say it was an April Fools joke, but it'd be a lie. However, since we missed Monthly Micronational Monday, we shall revisit micronations next Monday.

Today, we go to a rather infamous event during the Cold War, known commonly as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

The Bay of Pigs invasion refers to April 17, 1961, when 1400 Cuban exiles tried to invade the south coast of Cuba. Cuba had, in 1959, been taken over by the communist Castro, and the US was very wary of new communist governments and especially their relation to the USSR. At the time, Dwight Eisenhower was President of the US and Khrushchev was leader of the USSR.


The invasion was meant to be started by the Cuban exiles and backed up by American troops. However, the US had overestimated unrest under Castro's rule- the US had expected many Cubans and Cuban military men to join the US in the fight to overthrow Castro. So when American troops faced heavy opposition upon landing on the coast of Cuba, the 1500 men who arrived either surrendered or fled. Over 100 were killed and many more captured.

"Premier Fidel Castro issued a statement over Cuba's nationwide network saying that the invaders, members of the exiled Cuban revolutionary front, have come to destroy the revolution and take away the dignity and rights of men"

After not receiving the US support they expected, the Cuban exiles were easily put down and the unsuccessful invasion was put down by April 20th. The result was an embarrassment for the US and a failure to place non-communists in power in Cuba. 

Bay of Pigs memorial in Little-Havana, Miami, Florida

Sources: Wikipedia, JFK Library,