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French Election Open Thread

[ 153 ] May 7, 2017 |

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Even if Le Pen gets crushed, it’s still a huge advance for French fascism that she is one of the final two. According to commenter Cheerfull, estimates are that 25.3% of French ballots were returned blank. That anyone on the left would leave a ballot blank with Le Pen on the ballot basically demonstrates why the political self-righteousness and ignorance of large sections of the left explains much about why Donald Trump and Theresa May have won.

[SL]: Macron wins by roughly 20 points. I’m afraid people who want to deny the importance of the Comey letter by imagining some kind of white nationalist Bradley effect and asserting that Trump was really ahead all along are going to need a new excuse — there’s zero evidence for this domestically or internationally.

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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 82

[ 37 ] May 7, 2017 |

This is the grave of Louis Agassiz.

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Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz was born in 1807 in Switzerland. He became a scientist, attending some of the finest universities in Europe. He moved to Paris and became an acolyte of Alexander Von Humboldt, giving him access to the finest training and connections in the scientific world. He quickly became one of the world’s experts on geology and zoology. He first became known when selected to a complete a study of Brazilian freshwater fish samples that an exploratory team had brought back but whose leader died before he could complete the study. This made Agassiz particularly interested in ichthyology, which would remain his specialty. He began his own studies of European freshwater fish and published pioneering books on the subject. He also began to explore fossil fish and he published five volumes of study on the matter between 1833 and 1843. In 1836, he was elected to the Royal Society of Britain, helping him secure the financial resources necessary to take on his work. In 1837, his research led him to the conclusion that the Earth had been subjected an Ice Age, the first scientist to figure this out.

Agassiz came to the United States in 1846 to deliver a series of lectures and do research. As many successful foreigners have learned over the last 200 years, the U.S. can be a good place to make money. He was really popular, with up to 5000 people attending his lectures on fossil fish, zoology, and the Ice Age. So Agassiz stayed and worked at Harvard for the rest of his life. His lectures at Harvard led to the creation of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard in 1847, headed by Agassiz. He founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1859 and headed it until his death. He also realized by the mid-1850s that he could coast on his previous works while being famous. He taught occasionally at Cornell and talked a lot to other scientists. Longfellow wrote poems about him and he became comfortable and happy in his fame. He did lead a couple of scientific expeditions to South America in the 1860s, in part to escape the cold climate of New England that was affecting his health as he aged.

As was not uncommon among 19th century scientists, he also took several positions that modern Americans should feel quite uncomfortable with. First, he thought that the races were different species affected by different climatic zones, and most horribly, that those climatic zones made white people more advanced than people from the southern climes. He believed the Book of Genesis only described the white race. There has been debate over the years whether Agassiz was explicitly a racist, with Stephen Jay Gould strongly accusing him of racism and others defending him. The problem with this construction is the idea that one is either a racist or not a racist, avoiding the reality that most people are racists on a continuum, which people don’t like to hear today because it means they have culpability in racism even if they are liberals. Agassiz was obviously a white supremacist and as most science past and present is heavily influenced by the political and social atmosphere of the time, just because Agassiz was operating in a period of scientific racism doesn’t excuse his perpetuating it, nor does it make him a monster per se. Moreover, as Gould pointed out, Agassiz was viscerally horrified upon seeing African-Americans after moving the United States. For similar reasons of racist thought backed by religious dogma, Agassiz also rejected Darwin’s evolutionary theory. In 1860, he launched a public attack on Darwin, denying any connection between fossilized species and living species. He believed that God created all the species and refused to accept any theory that did not center some role for the deity. He published three books before he died, attacking Darwin and defending creationism, even as he became increasingly irrelevant in scientific debates. For this, Agassiz is a hero today among creationists.

Louis Agassiz died in 1873 and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Paperback

[ 11 ] May 5, 2017 |

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My book Empire of Timber is now in paperback and thus at a price that is reasonably affordable, if still a little high for a paperback. If you have an itch that needs to be scratched around reading the first book to examine how workers used their unions to promote their own environmental agenda in a single industry over the twentieth century, you should buy it!

Mostly Lost

[ 15 ] May 4, 2017 |

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So this is a terrible day. But here is an essay on the annual event to try and identify old films that exist in pieces and it’s pretty dang cool.

The Trump Health Ideology in Action

[ 28 ] May 4, 2017 |

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They have more ways to kill you than just taking away your health care. It’s a multifaceted war on you.

The Trump administration took aim Monday at two signature programs of the former first lady Michelle Obama, rolling back her efforts to promote healthy school lunches nationwide and potentially rebranding her program to educate adolescent girls abroad.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that school meals would no longer have to meet some requirements connected with Mrs. Obama’s initiative to combat childhood obesity by overhauling the nation’s school menus.

The nutrition regulations were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and were advocated by Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. For the last five years, schools have been required to reduce the amount of calories, fat and sodium in their cafeterias and increase offerings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonfat milk to the roughly 32 million students who receive federally subsidized meals.

Beginning next school year, schools can request an exemption from the whole grain requirements and delay the sodium mandate. They will also be able to serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of nonfat.

Mr. Perdue said the Obama-era rules had resulted in increased costs for school districts and declining participation in the federal school lunch program. He said relaxing the rules was part of the administration’s effort to “make school meals great again.”

“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” said Mr. Perdue, who announced the changes with a signed proclamation on Monday after having lunch with students at Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Va. Mr. Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, was just confirmed last week.

Nutrition advocates said the move by the Trump administration was shortsighted.

“Just because children would rather eat heavily salted, processed foods at school doesn’t mean they should,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “The president’s fondness for Big Macs and KFC is well known, but we shouldn’t let Colonel Sanders and McDonald’s run the school cafeteria.”

I believe Trump has named Colonel Sanders Secretary of the Army, so I think he’s in charge of the school cafeteria as well. All this salty, fatty, unhealthy food the kids will be shoveling down their throats will surely not cause preexisting conditions that would make health care impossible in Paul Ryan’s dystopia!

Anyone But Cuomo

[ 167 ] May 4, 2017 |

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a point during a meeting on tax cut proposals in the Red Room at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo has proposed cutting the state’s corporate income tax from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent and eliminating it altogether for upstate manufacturers. He also has proposed paying more state aid as an incentive to any of New York’s 10,500 local governments that impose hard 2 percent spending caps and cut their costs by consolidating services with other towns, villages, cities and counties. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

May all Democrats, Hillary Hacks and Bernie Bros alike, unite to make sure this man never sniffs the Democratic nomination.

Asked Wednesday whether it would be better for New York to have an all Democratic state government, Cuomo, the head of the state party who is believed to have 2020 presidential aspirations, referred to the chaos and dysfunction the last time the Dems controlled the chamber in 2009-10.

“We’ve had a unified Democratic government in Albany. It’s not a hypothetical. We’ve had it. It wasn’t extraordinarily successful. So I work with the Assembly and Senate that I’ve been given and I do the best I can,” he said.

Cuomo did say as a Democrat he supports members of his party. The governor has given money to the Senate Dems and their candidates. But the state party he controls has not.

It’s nice of a leading Democrat with national ambitions to have to say that he does in fact support Democrats, even though his actions don’t show it.

Calling Republicans

[ 56 ] May 4, 2017 |

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Marshall makes sense here on how to deal with Republican representatives on this vote to kill millions of Americans, whether they vote yes or no.

It matters just as much if your GOP rep is voting against this bill. To call and say “Hey thanks”? Not remotely.

If your Republican Rep is voting ‘no’, it’s still their vote and their seat which makes Paul Ryan the Speaker. That’s making this possible. If their seat was held by a Democrat (and obviously a number of seats more, not just that one) this wouldn’t be happening. So it’s not just about their vote. They make the majority possible. And that’s why this is happening. So really, they are just as responsible as the Republicans are voting “yes”. That’s true as a factual matter. As a matter of political strategy, if you want to protect the coverage of those 24 million people, you should let them know that you plan to hold them responsible for this. The heat on them will matter a lot because they have little real incentive to try to stop the train if they think they’re off the hook because they voted “no”. This is very important.

I guarantee you there are many conversations between ‘no’ voting Republican Reps and House leadership in which it’s a very straightforward arrangement. “I wish you guys the best but I need to vote ‘no’. It won’t fly in my district.” For a certain number, the leadership says, “We understand. We’ll give you a pass. We have the votes.” So the “no” voting Rep thinks he or she is covered. I’m in the clear. They shouldn’t be for the reasons I’ve stated above. In many cases, they are perfectly happy to see the 24 million go to the butcher block. Because it’s not on them. Or they don’t think it will be. It’s important for constituents to let them know that is not how they see it.

If your Rep is a diehard “yes” in a safe district, you should still call. Why? First, no one is ever that safe. But the more important point is that when people in safe seats hear more than they expected, they will rightly get the sense that other people in their caucus might go down to defeat. So they may no longer be in the majority. Especially today, parties operate as units. No representative is an island.

Another point to consider is that this seems likely to pass by maybe as little as one or two votes. What does that mean? That means that every Republican “yes” on their own could have made the difference. Let’s say this literally passes by one vote. That means your Republican Rep, alone, could have saved coverage for 24 million people. And so could that other Republican Rep who represents your cousin in other state. Funny how that works, isn’t it? But it’s true. That’s powerful. That’s the making of 30 seconds ads.

I could rattle off a list of other scenarios. But the point is that you should call basically no matter what. The utility and impact may not be as obvious. But often, the impact is almost as great as it would be if you were calling someone who was actually wavering. Sometimes greater. The over-arching point is don’t fall for the silliness of vote count literalism. Call. It matters.

The main takeaway from this horrid bill is this tweet from last night. And the central point that I have made over and over–the threat this nation faces is at most 20% Trump. The threat is at least 80% the Republican Party and what it stands for. And I don’t know really know if our freedoms can survive decades of this.

Just Win Baby

[ 492 ] May 3, 2017 |

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Sam Adler-Bell’s essay urging the left to avoid its all-too-typical purity politics and embrace a strategy of winning is the best thing you will read all day. A couple of choice excerpts.

Hegemonic contest means being unafraid to engage with political structures and symbols that already exist. On this view, running in Democratic primaries is better than insisting on our own ballot line; changing the meaning of the American flag is better than burning it. It’s not that the Democratic Party is good or burning flags is wrong. Rather, it’s that the Party’s infrastructure and the flag’s symbolic potency are both too useful to cede to our opponents. As Max Berger, an organizer with “All of Us” recently told me, “The left will never control America the country if we can’t take control of ‘America’ the idea.” Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have a definition of America—who’s in it and who’s out. So do the Clintons. We need our own.

Building political power is not just a matter of telling the right story. It involves organizing, building numbers. On this front, Smucker offers some concise, practical advice: “Develop a core and a broader base; build a culture and a system of plugging new members into meaningful and capacity-building roles; maintain an outward focus so as to avoid insularity, and engage with existing infrastructure [and networks] rather than constantly starting from scratch.” This last point is crucial. We can’t recruit a mass movement one-by-one. We should think of our organizations as vehicles for mobilizing existing blocs, allowing people to take action as teachers, as union members, as Quakers, as students. These blocs will be compelled to take action with us if we have presented a compelling enough counter-narrative: a story about the world we want, an inclusive “we” in which they see themselves, a vivid “them” in which they see their enemies.

And we’ll have to offer them both a compelling moral vision and a believable strategic agenda for achieving it. In the words of historian Katrina Forrester, “Feminist and progressive politics can’t survive on defensive strategies alone.… A vision of a better life matters just as much.” The wisdom the left has to offer the Trump resistance is exactly this: that fear will not sustain us. “Fear might get people in the door the first hour,” I recently heard organizer and educator Mariame Kaba say, “but you’re going to lose them in the twelfth hour.” We need an alternative vision, a shared purpose, and a plan.

There are those who believe that articulating—and forcing the Democrats to articulate—an unapologetic left vision will divide the opposition. But history (including the history of the Tea Party) suggests the opposite strategy: the best way to obstruct the ruling party’s agenda is to intransigently embrace the values of the base. What’s more, the notion that a purely defensive strategy is adequate suggests that the hegemony that preceded Trump was acceptable. It wasn’t. The problem with a resistance movement organized exclusively around opposition to Trump is not only that such a vision is not sustaining; the problem is that America wasn’t “already great.”

The whole thing is fantastic and true. Leftists wearing their politics like a tattoo, showing off the individual righteousness while refusing to engage in the dirtiness of building winning campaigns is a strategy for losing.

It’s also why Bernie Sanders is an unacceptable candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020. I love much about Bernie but a winning campaign in 2020 requires a few things. First, it requires the left finding a candidate that brings multiple factions of the Democratic Party together. Given that Hillary partisans hate Bernie (or more accurately they hate BernieBros) nearly as much as Bernie partisans hate Hillary, Sanders is not the candidate to unite the party. Not at all. Moreover, of any major figure in the Democratic Party, Sanders is the most old-school leftist that speaks really well to angry white men, but badly struggles to understand why the concerns of people of color and women are as important as the class war and, more importantly, struggles to communicate with those voters. This is why the idea that Bernie would have easily defeated Trump makes no sense. Not only does it assume that somehow the Republican hate machine couldn’t adjust to a socialist who has said many inflammatory things over the years, but even if Bernie would do better among white men in Scranton and Erie, he probably can’t get even the depressed turnout of black voters in Detroit and Milwaukee. Saying Bernie would have won is just a self-fulfilling fantasy. Maybe he would have, maybe he wouldn’t have, but it’s far from obvious and all saying this serves is to relitigate the primary in a way that justifies your own position.

No, the leftist candidate in 2020 needs to be someone else. Elizabeth Warren is fairly obvious the best choice as she probably would unite the party like no other. Keith Ellison would be a fascinating candidate. Perhaps more likely would be the left getting behind someone like Kirsten Gillibrand running a really progressive campaign. The great fear of course would be the left settling on someone else, calling Gillibrand a hopeless neoliberal, and we relive 2016 all over again, even after seeing 4 years of Trump. In fact, I don’t think there’s much evidence that won’t happen, especially if the left doesn’t take Adler-Bell’s advice to heart. The movement has to be big, it has to unite a lot of different kinds of people, and it can’t primarily about making sure you are happy with a candidate’s purity.

The Eisenhower First 100 Days

[ 68 ] May 3, 2017 |

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Kevin Kruse’s essay on Eisenhower’s first 100 days is really fascinating. Basically Ike dedicated it to Making America Love Jesus Again.

Prayer coursed through the inaugural ceremonies as well. When Eisenhower took his oath of office, for instance, his left hand rested on not one Bible, but two – each opened to a passage recommended by Billy Graham. Immediately after his oath, in his first official words as president, Ike asked the 125,000 Americans in attendance (and seventy million more watching on television) to bow their heads so he could lead them in “a little private prayer of my own” he’d written that morning. Even his inaugural address sounded more like a sermon, with the new president calling for a return to “the abiding creed of our fathers.” When the inaugural parade took place that afternoon, the very first float in line – called “God’s float” by its creators – was a replica of a house of worship, adorned with images of churches and synagogues. Two phrases appeared in a grand Gothic script at each end: “Freedom of Worship” and “In God We Trust.”

The religious overtones of Eisenhower’s inauguration echoed throughout his first hundred days. Just take a look at the first week of February 1953:

On Sunday morning, Eisenhower became the first president ever to be baptized while in office, taking the rite before the congregation of the National Presbyterian Church. That same night, he broadcast an Oval Office address for the American Legion’s “Back to God” ceremonies, urging the millions watching at home to recognize and rejoice in the spiritual foundations of the nation.

On Thursday, Eisenhower was the guest of honor at the first-ever National Prayer Breakfast. Now an annual tradition, the first event, hosted by hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, took the theme of “Government Under God.” The convening pastor led a “prayer of consecration” for Eisenhower, who then offered brief remarks of his own. In them, he stressed his belief that a free government had to be “embedded soundly in a deeply-felt religious faith or it makes no sense.”

On Friday, Eisenhower made clear that he would turn those words to deeds, instituting the first-ever opening prayers at a Cabinet meeting. The president believed deeply in the power of prayer, and his Cabinet – whose ranks included both an elder in the Presbyterian Church and one of the twelve-man ruling council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – readily welcomed the tradition. Still, it took some time before the new practice became a natural habit for them. Ike’s secretary recalled the president emerging from one session only to slap his forehead and exclaim: “Jesus Christ, we forgot the prayer!”

That was just one week. And the themes that unfolded there were echoed across the president’s first hundred days and then throughout his presidency, as Eisenhower led the nation in a religious revival that was nothing short of revolutionary. In the summer of 1953, for instance, the president, Vice President Richard Nixon and members of their cabinet welcomed leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals to the Oval Office. The special occasion was a signing ceremony, in which the president declared that the government of the United States of America was based on biblical principles detailed in the 23rd Psalm.

The rest of the Capitol consecrated itself, too. In 1954, Congress followed Eisenhower’s lead, adding the words “under God” to the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance. They put the phrase “In God We Trust” on a postage stamp for the first time that same year, and then on paper money the following year; in 1956, it became the nation’s first official motto.

Of course we live with this implications of Eisenhower’s actions today with religiosity’s increased role in public life, the battles over saying the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, and the idea that atheists are uniquely unsuited to serve as president.

A Civil War Historian Responds to Trump

[ 86 ] May 3, 2017 |

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A journalist called up David Blight, one of the greatest living historians of the Civil War, and asked him what he thought of Trump’s Andrew Jackson comments. Blight clearly hadn’t heard of this yet. The spontaneous reaction is pretty great.

“He really said this about Jackson and the Civil War? All I can say to you is that from day one I have believed that Donald Trump’s greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance—of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, move history however they wish. This is simply a fifth-grade understanding of history or worse. And this comes from the president of the United States! Under normal circumstances if a real estate tycoon weighed in on the nature of American history from such ignorance and twisted understanding we would simply ignore or laugh at him. But since this man lives in the historic White House and wields the constitutional powers of the presidency and the commander in chief we have to pay attention. Trump’s “learning” of American history must have stopped even before the fifth grade. I wish I could say this is funny and not deeply disturbing. My profession should petition the President to take a one- or two-month leave of absence, VP Pence steps in for that interim, and Trump goes on a retreat in one of his resorts for forced reeducation. It could be a new tradition called the presidential education leave. Or perhaps in New Deal tradition, an ‘ignorance relief’ period. This alone might gain the United States again some confidence and respect around the world. God help us.”

Trump in a reeducation camp is something we can all get behind, I hope.

But Do You Know Who Really Tells It Like It Is? Judith Butler

[ 390 ] May 2, 2017 |

I am really interested to know what you all think about this.

First, this is really funny.

Second, I think it is brilliant because it cuts all ways. It satirizes the endless stories about blue-collar white Trump voters. But the real target of the video is how the left talks to itself. It makes two pretty solid points about the left broadly, but gender and queer theory specifically. First, most of gender and queer theory, and much leftist theory around race, gender, and sexuality, is pretty spot on. Second, none of it is language anyone can understand except for educational elites.

The second is a pretty big problem. Now, I am admittedly a fundamentalist when it comes to plain language. While there can be a reason to talk that fancy talk while talking to scholars in your field, usually there’s no actual good reason to create such arcane and opaque language that no one but 25 other people in your field can understand it. Moreover, even if such things are necessary to have that conversation, there’s most certainly no good reason this can’t be translated into language regular people can understand.

In my writing, I have one goal: If my parents, neither of which graduated from college can’t understand what I am saying, then I have done it wrong. And I’m not talking about the blog here. I’m talking about my books. When I finished Out of Sight, my father in law said that he liked it because he thought his 8th grade granddaughter could understand it. I take that as a point of pride. Whether or not the book is any good is up to the reader to decide, but at least I didn’t use unnecessarily fancy words that make myself feel good.

Let’s let someone who is the opposite of Judith Butler comment on this:

“Is the idea to inform your reader or make him feel like a fucking dunce?” is pretty much the greatest line about writing ever.

Good writing is pretty much the only way to take ideas and turn them into social change. Judith Butler is of course brilliant, but even I, with a Ph.D. in History, have a really hard time following most of it. That’s really not a good thing. And if we want to apply our insights on all these means and structures of oppression and reach out to people who don’t go to Swarthmore or have advanced degrees, we have to be able to get out of our bubbles and express them to people in real words. This I believe. I’m not saying it will actually convert the steelworker who voted for Trump. That’s always going to be a joke. But I am saying that social change doesn’t happen when nobody knows what the hell you are talking about.

The Gerald Ford Museum

[ 100 ] May 2, 2017 |

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I spent the weekend in Michigan, where I was chairing a plenary session at the American Federation of Teachers Higher Education Conference. As I am always one to take advantage of opportunities to fulfill my obsessions (yes, there may be some Michigan graves in your future), I intentionally scheduled a late flight last night so I could spend yesterday driving out to Grand Rapids to visit the Gerald Ford Museum and taste a couple of that town’s 497 breweries (I went to Harmony and Founders; why Grand Rapids of all places in the beer capital of the Midwest is a mystery to me).

Presidential museums/libraries are very interesting places. They are nominally run by the National Archives and the actual libraries are. But the museums are heavily influenced by the private supporters of the president. This means that they are largely exercises in hackwork and apology, even for presidents I don’t hate. The message of the Carter Museum is that Carter was the human rights president because he told Argentina to stop throwing people out of airplanes. The message of the George H.W. Bush Museum is that he got us over the Vietnam Syndrome thanks to his leadership over the great menacing Saddam Hussein and, to a lesser extent, Manuel Noriega. The Nixon Museum is extra special. Over time, the partisanship fades away with the generation of presidential supporters behind the museum and thus the National Archives can do more. When I visited the Nixon a couple of years ago, this was just beginning. The Watergate section had been reintrepreted from actively defending Nixon’s innocence to text that was so opaque that no one without immense preexisting knowledge of Watergate could understand it. Whether this is an improvement, I’m not sure. I understand more changes have been made since. But when I was there, a lot of the original exhibits were there, discussing how Nixon saved the police from the horrors of the Miranda decision, among other insanity. Between that, the display of the rock Barry Goldwater sent Nixon because he claimed it was a profile of Nixon’s head, and the helicopter Nixon fled the White House on that you could tour and that still had the original blue shag carpet, this was heaven.

The Ford is less out of control in no small part because Gerald Ford is just less an absurd figure. It’s basically all about his fiscal conservatism saving us from government spending. Yet there are still some classic bits and artifacts here for the visitor. Here’s 5 images I took yesterday. These may not sum up the entire museum, but it’s a start.

And this, one of the most amazing artifacts I have ever seen.

That one blew my mind. That’s a pretty intense staircase! Unfortunately, one could not climb it and pretend you were escaping Saigon in 1975. No fun.

And a bonus one, with 1976 campaign horrors.

I can say, sadly, that the bathrooms at the Ford Museum do not have any of that Carter toilet paper.

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