Fidel Castro arrives in Havana after deposing Batista’s regime


Updated:
Original:
Year
1959
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 1959, a triumphant Fidel Castro enters Havana, having deposed the American-backed regime of General Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s arrival in the Cuban capital marked a definitive victory for his 26th of July Movement and the beginning of Castro’s decades-long rule over the island nation.

The revolution had gone through several stages, beginning with a failed assault on a barracks and Castro’s subsequent imprisonment in 1953. After his release and exile in Mexico, he and 81 other revolutionaries arrived back in Cuba on a small yacht, the Granma, in 1956. Over the course of the next two years, Castro’s forces and other rebels fought what was primarily a guerrilla campaign, frustrating the significantly larger forces of Batista. After a failed offensive by Batista’s army, Castro’s guerrillas descended from their hideouts in the southern mountains and began to make their way northwest, toward Havana. Outnumbered but supported by most of the civilians they encountered along the way, Generals Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos captured the city of Santa Clara on December 31, 1958, prompting Batista to flee the country. When he heard the news, Castro began what was essentially a victory parade, arriving in Havana a week later.

Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba the following month and played a leading role in the construction of a new state. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, he did not immediately institute a communist regime. Rather, he quickly set out on a goodwill tour of the United States, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to meet with him, and traveled the Americas gathering support for his proposal that the U.S. do for its own hemisphere what it had done for Europe with the Marshall Plan.

Despite these overtures, Castro’s government would inevitably become aligned with the other side of the Cold War divide. Castro’s reforms included the redistribution of wealth and land and other socialist priorities that were unfriendly to foreign businesses, leading to a feud with the United States and a close alliance with the Soviet Union. This rivalry—which nearly led to a nuclear war between the superpowers just three years later—has shaped the recent history of the region. Castro would rule until the early 2000s, when he was replaced by his brother. During that time, an American embargo of Cuba stymied Castro’s dreams of a socialist republic, and hundreds of thousands fled his increasingly despotic regime. The Cuba that he left behind was a far cry from the one he hoped to build as he entered Havana, but Castro remains one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century. He died in 2016. 

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President George W. Bush signs No Child Left Behind Act into law


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Original:
Year
2002
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act into law. The sweeping update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 created new standards and goals for the nation’s public schools and implemented tough corrective measures for schools that failed to meet them. Today, it is largely regarded as a failed experiment.

NCLB passed both houses of Congress easily and with bipartisan support. Future Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, and longtime Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy were among its sponsors. The bill aimed to address what both parties agreed was an unacceptable drop in standards in America’s public schools. The new law mandated that states create measures of Adequate Yearly Progress based on standardized tests. Schools that did not meet AYP requirements were subject to increasingly harsher actions by the state, such as giving students the options to transfer after 2 years of missing AYP goals or even the wholesale restructuring of a school after 5 years.

While some schools did see improvements in test scores, the results were uneven and often negative. Teachers complained that standardized testing cut into class time and forced them to “teach to the test” rather than to their students’ needs. Many felt that requiring all schools statewide to achieve the same goals unfairly punished both schools that were already performing well and schools in underserved areas. Others argued in principle against threatening underperforming schools with corrective measures, while some accused Republicans of using the law to turn private schools over to charter school companies or private businesses.

In 2015, NCLB was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which retained parts of the old law but attempted to make it less punitive to underperforming schools. Today, NCLB is often cited as an overly harsh approach to education reform, while many Americans simply remember it as the reason they had to take so many standardized tests. 

READ MORE: In Early 1800s American Classrooms, Students Governed Themselves

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African American men gain the right to vote in Washington, D.C.


Publish date:
Year
1867
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 1867, African American men gain the right to vote in the District of Columbia despite the veto of its most powerful resident, President Andrew Johnson. The Republican-controlled senate overrode Johnson by a vote of 29-10 three years before a constitutional amendment granted the right to vote to all men regardless of race.

At the time, citizens of D.C. voted for a local council, but had no representation in Congress and no say in presidential elections. Congress was the final authority on many matters for the District, including voting rights—to this day, the capital city’s budget is the only municipal budget in the country subject to congressional approval. At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Republican Party dominated the legislature, which had been reduced in size and drained of Democrats due to the secession of Southern states. Johnson, however, was not a Republican but rather a Unionist Democrat whom Lincoln had chosen as his running mate during the Civil War in the hopes of appealing to Southern Unionists.

As evidenced by his veto, Johnson valued reconciliation with the former Confederacy over racial equality. He also opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which made freed slaves citizens. Johnson’s opposition to the Republicans’ views on Reconstruction would define his presidency and lead to his becoming the first president ever to be impeached. Though he was unable to stop Congress from granting voting rights to the African Americans of D.C., he spent much of his presidency vetoing the bills of the so-called Radical Reconstructionists.

African American men in D.C.—with some exceptions, including those on welfare—gained the right to vote three years before the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed that right for all American men, regardless of race. As citizens of D.C., however, they did not gain the right to vote in federal elections until 1961. Today, the nation’s capital stands on equal footing with the states in the Electoral College, but its congressional representation remains limited to a single, non-voting member of the House of Representatives. Many official license plates in the district carry the phrase “Taxation without representation,” a nod to the irony that the capital of the United States has roughly the amount of influence in the legislative process as it did before the Revolutionary War.

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The U.S. national debt reaches $0 for the first time


Publish date:
Year
1835
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 1835, President Andrew Jackson achieves his goal of entirely paying off the United States’ national debt. It was the only time in U.S. history that the national debt stood at zero, and it precipitated one of the worst financial crises in American history.

The elimination of the national debt was both a personal issue for Jackson and the culmination of a political project as old as the nation itself. Since the time of the Revolution, American politicians had argued over the wisdom of the nation carrying debt. After independence, the federal government agreed to take on individual states’ war debts as part of the unification of the former colonies. Federalists, those who favored a stronger central government, established a national bank and argued that debt could be a useful way of fueling the new country’s economy. Their opponents, most notably Thomas Jefferson, felt that these policies favored Northeastern elites at the expense of rural Americans and saw the debt as a source of national shame.

Jackson, a populist whose Democratic Party grew out of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party, had a personal aversion to debt stemming from a land deal that had gone sour for him in his days as a speculator. Campaigning for re-election in 1832, Jackson vetoed the re-charter of the national bank and called the debt “a moral failing” and “black magic.” Jackson vetoed a number of spending bills throughout his tenure, putting an end to projects that would have expanded nationwide infrastructure. He further paid down the debt by selling off vast amounts of government land in the West, and was able to settle the debt entirely in 1835.

Jackson’s triumph contained the seeds of the economy’s undoing. The selling-off of federal lands had led to a real estate bubble, and the destruction of the national bank led to reckless spending and borrowing. Combined with other elements of Jackson’s fiscal policy as well as downturns in foreign economies, these problems led to the Panic of 1837. A bank run and the subsequent depression tanked the U.S. economy and forced the federal government to begin borrowing again.

The U.S. has been in debt ever since. The debt skyrocketed during the Civil War but was nearly paid off by the early 20th Century, only to balloon again with the onset of World War I. Numerous presidents and politicians have decried the debt and even pledged to do away with it, with conservatives and libertarians frequently echoing Jackson. Nevertheless, with the debt now surpassing $22 trillion, it is unlikely that the events of 1835 will be repeated in the foreseeable future.

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Infamous drug lord “El Chapo” is captured by Mexican authorities


Publish date:
Year
2016
Month Day
January 08

In the early hours of January 8, 2016, Mexican authorities apprehend the drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. It was the third time that the law caught up to El Chapo, a figure whose crimes, influence and mystique rival those of Pablo Escobar.

Guzmán became involved in the drug trade as a child, dealing in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamines. He became the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, the wealthiest and most powerful cartel in Mexico. After his arrest in Guatemala in 1993, Guzmán was extradited to Mexico and sentenced to over 20 years in prison. While incarcerated, he continued to run the cartel and lived comfortably, having bribed much of the staff. In 2001, when a Mexican Supreme Court ruling increased the likelihood that he would be extradited to the United States, Guzmán escaped by hiding in a laundry cart – over 70 people, including the director of the prison, have been implicated in his escape.

Guzmán remained at large for over a decade, leading the cartel through a vicious series of conflicts with the government and rival cartels. One of the central conflicts revolved around Guzmán’s bloody and ultimately successful bid for control over the Ciudad Juárez routes that transport drugs into the United States. Guzmán became infamous for his cartel’s extreme violence and its extensive network of tunnels and distribution cells on both sides of the border. It was widely known that the Sinaloa Cartel had a number of informants and agents within the Mexican government, and many in Mexico believed that the government’s war on drugs was actually being waged to eliminate Sinaloa’s rivals.

During this time, Guzmán was understood to be living in the mountainous and sparsely populated Sierra Madre region. He was arrested for a second time in February of 2014 when the Mexican Navy raided a seaside hotel where he had been visiting family. He was placed in a maximum security prison to await trial, but escaped in July of 2015 via an elaborate tunnel nearly one mile long, estimated to have taken over a year and $1 million to build. His escape was a major embarrassment for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, and his recapture became a top priority.

Finally, nearly six months later, an operation involving every law enforcement agency in Mexico resulted in a raid of a house in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Guzmán escaped the house— again through a tunnel—and stole a car, but was captured near the town of Juan José Ríos. It was later revealed that the Mexican government had consulted with the Colombian and American law enforcement agents who tracked down and killed Escobar during the manhunt. In a tacit acknowledgement of its prior missteps, the Mexican government expedited Guzmán to the United States in 2017. He was convicted on a slew of charges and sentenced to life in prison.

Guzmán is currently held at ADX Florence, said to be the most secure prison in the federal penitentiary system, in Colorado. The Mexican Drug War continues, with rivalries within the Sinaloa Cartel and the rise of new cartels contributing to an atmosphere of violence and terror that has persisted even in the absence of the country’s most storied drug lord.

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President George H.W. Bush vomits on the Prime Minister of Japan


Publish date:
Year
1992
Month Day
January 08

One of the most widely ridiculed and memorable gaffes in the history of the United States Presidency occurred in Japan on the evening of January 8, 1992, when President George H.W. Bush vomits on the Prime Minister of Japan.

Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was hosting a dinner for the president in honor of his state visit. Bush, who was 67 at the time, appeared to be in fine health, playing doubles tennis with the Emperor of Japan and his son that morning. During the dinner, however, Bush suddenly fell ill. He leaned forward, then fell to his side, vomiting into the lap of his host, the Prime Minister. Bush then fainted as his wife Barbara, his aides, and members of the Secret Service swiftly attended him. He was revived within moments, and was able to leave the dinner under his own power, apologizing for the incident.

Doctors later stated that the president has suffered acute gastroenteritis and felt fine after taking an anti-nausea drug. He resumed his normal schedule the following afternoon. Nonetheless, the incident and the blurry video of Bush’s collapse received enormous attention in his home country. Saturday Night Live spoofed the incident, comparing it to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though he refused to make hay of it publicly, Bush’s challenger, Bill Clinton, likely benefitted from the incident. Clinton’s relative youth and vitality were key to his public image, and Bush’s very public illness only served to reinforce the differences between the two men.

Bush lost his re-election bid the following November, although he would live to see his son, George W. Bush, serve two terms as president. Even today, the time Bush vomited on the Japanese prime minister holds a special place in the annals of American presidential goofs. It also entered the Japanese lexicon—the colloquial phrase bushuru, which roughly translates to “to pull a Bush,” became a popular slang term for vomiting in the wake of the incident.

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Harvey Milk becomes the first openly gay person elected to public office in California


Publish date:
Year
1978
Month Day
January 08

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, takes his place on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on January 8, 1978. The first and, for years, most visible openly gay politician in America, Milk was a longtime activist and pioneering leader of San Francisco’s LGBT community.

After serving in the Navy during the Korean War, Milk held several white-collar jobs in New York City. Initially conservative and reluctant to advocate for gay rights, Milk’s views changed around the time he and his then-partner opened a camera shop on Castro Street, the heart of the San Francisco’s LGBT community, in 1973.

Like many business owners and citizens of the largely-gay Castro District, Milk was harassed by police and local officials. Realizing the community’s burning desire to challenge the status quo, he decided to run for the city’s Board of Supervisors shortly after opening his store. Despite alienating many Democrats, including other gay activists, with his bombastic language and flower-child persona, he won the Castro district handily and came in 10 out of 32 candidates. Though he did not win his race, Milk established himself as a highly effective speaker and organizer. Over the next several years, he partnered with unions and other marginalized groups, creating coalitions that fought for everyday San Franciscans and educating the public about the plight of the LGBT community. Due to these efforts, as well as his own talent for self-promotion, Milk became known as the Mayor of Castro Street.

Milk cleaned up his image, started wearing suits, and swore off marijuana as his political ambitions grew. He argued in favor of free public transportation, public oversight of the police, and other street-level political causes. Still, Milk and the Castro’s rise to power coincided with the rise of anti-gay reactionaries like Anita Bryant, and Milk understood both the power and the danger of his position as de facto leader of the largest gay community in America. Fearing assassination, he took to recording his thoughts, including a sadly prescient one: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

Finally, in 1977, Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors to represent his beloved Castro. His first act was to introduce a bill outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation, which Mayor George Moscone signed into law with a pen Milk had given him. On the ninth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, shortly after his partner committed suicide and in the face of conservative backlash across the country, Milk addressed San Francisco’s gay pride parade, beginning with his catchphrase “My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you” and ending with a message of “Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great.”

The following November, 75 percent of California voters rejected a referendum that would have allowed schools to fire teachers for being homosexual. The vote represented California’s rejection of Bryant’s “family values” campaign, but the victory for the LGBT community was short-lived. On November 27, Milk and Moscone were assassinated in City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former supervisor who had been the only one to vote against Milk’s civil rights bill. Mourning and riots throughout San Francisco followed news of the assassinations and White’s subsequent conviction for manslaughter rather than murder.

A plaza in the Castro and Terminal One of San Francisco International Airport were both renamed in Milk’s honor. In 2009, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and California declared his birthday, May 22, Harvey Milk Day. On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in 2019, Milk was an inaugural inductee onto the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor.

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The Battle of New Orleans


Updated:
Original:
Year
1815
Month Day
January 08

Two weeks after the War of 1812 officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. General Andrew Jackson achieves the greatest American victory of the war at the Battle of New Orleans.

In September 1814, an impressive American naval victory on Lake Champlain forced invading British forces back into Canada and led to the conclusion of peace negotiations in Ghent, Belgium. Although the peace agreement was signed on December 24, word did not reach the British forces assailing the Gulf coast in time to halt a major attack.

On January 8, 1815, the British marched against New Orleans, hoping that by capturing the city they could separate Louisiana from the rest of the United States. Pirate Jean Lafitte, however, had warned the Americans of the attack, and the arriving British found militiamen under General Andrew Jackson strongly entrenched at the Rodriquez Canal. In two separate assaults, the 7,500 British soldiers under Sir Edward Pakenham were unable to penetrate the U.S. defenses, and Jackson’s 4,500 troops, many of them expert marksmen from Kentucky and Tennessee, decimated the British lines. In half an hour, the British had retreated, General Pakenham was dead, and nearly 2,000 of his men were killed, wounded, or missing. U.S. forces suffered only eight killed and 13 wounded.

Although the battle had no bearing on the outcome of the war, Jackson’s overwhelming victory elevated national pride, which had suffered a number of setbacks during the War of 1812. The Battle of New Orleans was also the last armed engagement between the United States and Britain.

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Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords injured in shooting rampage


Updated:
Original:
Year
2011
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 2011, Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. congresswoman from Arizona, is critically injured when a man goes on a shooting spree during a constituents meeting held by the congresswoman outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Six people died in the attack and another 13, including Giffords, were wounded. The gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was taken into custody at the scene.

Giffords, an Arizona native and Democrat who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, arrived at the Casas Adobes Safeway store at 10 a.m. on January 8 to host a Congress at Your Corner event. The popular politician, just the third woman from Arizona ever elected to Congress, sat outside at a table, speaking with constituents who had lined up to see her. Ten minutes later, Loughner, an Arizona resident, approached the 40-year-old Giffords and shot her at point-blank range with a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol. He then opened fire on the people standing in line. A short time later, while Loughner attempted to reload his gun, bystanders tackled him and held him until police arrived. Giffords, who was hit with a bullet that fractured her skull and pierced the left side of her brain, was transported to a Tucson hospital. Some early news reports claimed she had not survived the shooting.

Investigators soon discovered evidence at Loughner’s home indicating he had targeted the congresswoman in an assassination plot, and that he had a history of posting anti-government rants on the Internet. It also came to light that in the fall of 2010 Loughner was informed by officials at Tucson’s Pima Community College, where he was a student, that after exhibiting disruptive, bizarre behavior in classes and in the library he would not be allowed to return to school until he got a mental-health clearance. Rather than complying, Loughner dropped out of college.

On January 12, 2011, President Barack Obama spoke at a large public memorial service in Tucson for the victims of the shooting spree. Among the dead were a 9-year-old girl, a 63-year-old federal judge and a 30-year-old member of Giffords’ staff. Later that month, Giffords was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas, where she would relearn how to walk and talk. Also in late January, Loughner pleaded not guilty to a series of federal charges against him, including the attempted assassination of a congressional member. In March, he pleaded not guilty to an additional 49 counts stemming from the shootings.

That May, Giffords traveled from the hospital in Houston to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launch of the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelley. The following month, the congresswoman was released from the rehab hospital and began outpatient treatment. On August 1, she made a surprise return to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since she was shot, in order to vote in favor of passing a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

In November 2011, Giffords and her husband released a memoir, “Gabby: A Story of Hope and Courage.” To coincide with the book’s launch, Giffords gave her first television interview since the shooting. During the interview, the congresswoman appeared upbeat but had difficulty forming complete sentences. On January 25, 2012, Giffords resigned from Congress in order to concentrate on her continuing recovery. In August of that same year, Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 of the crimes he was charged with, including killing six people. As part of the plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against him. On November 8, 2012, Loughner was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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Mona Lisa exhibited in Washington


Updated:
Original:
Year
1963
Month Day
January 08

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, is exhibited for the first time in America. Over 2,000 dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy, came out that evening to view the famous painting. The next day, the exhibit opened to the public, and during the next three weeks an estimated 500,000 people came to see it. The painting then traveled to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was seen by another million people.

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the great Italian Renaissance painters, completed the Mona Lisa, a portrait of the wife of wealthy Florentine citizen Francesco del Gioconda, in 1504. The painting, also known as La Gioconda, depicts the figure of a woman with an enigmatic facial expression that is both aloof and alluring, seated before a visionary landscape. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Andre Malraux, the French minister of culture, arranged the loan of the painting from the Louvre Museum in Paris to the United States.

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